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Russia's Commodification of Political Prisoners

In a ruling that came as something of a surprise to his supporters, on May 31, 2013, Moscow’s top court overturned businessman Alexey Kozlov’s previous “conviction on the charge of money laundering.” Kozlov’s lawyer, meanwhile, announced that a “compromise decision was exactly what we expected.”

Released a few days later after the new court ruling, Kozlov regained his freedom not without additional struggle that included threatening a hunger strike [ru], and both his wife and lawyer journeying to the prison in Ivanovo, where he was incarcerated [ru].

Kozlov’s wife, journalist-activist Olga Romanova, argued [ru] that the case against him was fabricated by his old business partner, Vladimir Slutsker [ru], who happens to be a former member of the Federation Council (Russia’s senate). Romanova contended [ru] that her husband was a political prisoner, explaining that he became a target because of her own work as a journalist, specifically because of an article she wrote in The New Times about Alexei Mordashov, chief of the Russian steel and mining company Severstal. Former Duma Deputy Gennady Gudkov supported Romanova's claim, saying, “Literally, of course, we don’t have political prisoners, we don’t have charges, say, for anti-Soviet propaganda or anti-Putin propaganda…. But the political nature of many criminal prosecutions is perfectly obvious.”

Upon his release from prison, Kozlov gave a round of interviews to the press [ru], saying [ru] that he viewed his victory in court and release from prison as a sign to keep fighting, and pledged to do so. After commenting for Politvestnik.tv, Kozlov's interviewer wrote [ru] on YouTube:

Бизнесмен Алексей Козлов уверен в том, что государственная система, перемалывающая судьбы людей, готова отступить лишь перед тем человеком, кто стоит до конца.

Businessman Alexei Kozlov is certain that the state system, which is designed to crush people's hopes, is prepared to back down only before a man who stand to the end.

In the comments below the YouTube clip, one user cynically responded:

А Магнитский? Стоял до конца, и что? Государственная система отступила? Нет

And Magnitsky? He stood until the end, and what? Did the state system back down? No.

Alexey Kozlov and his wife, Olga Romanova, 21 September 2011, screenshot from YouTube video by slonruvideo.

Alexey Kozlov and his wife, Olga Romanova, 21 September 2011, screenshot from YouTube video by slonruvideo.

Blogger Anton Nosik was more positive [ru], commenting on both Kozlov’s case and another recent court victory by activist Vadim Korovin:

Обе новости достаточно неожиданные на общем фоне нашей удручающей судебной практики. Но их пример — отрадное свидетельство: даже в насквозь прогнившей системе квази-правосудия находятся смелые люди. Как бы мало их там ни было, они все же есть.

А значит, не все потеряно.

Both pieces of news are quite unexpected against the backdrop of our depressing jurisprudence. But their example is welcome evidence that, even in the rotten system of quasi-justice, there are brave people. However few there are, they are still there.

And so all is not lost.

This received some disparaging responses, including one comment [ru] crediting an upcoming G8 meeting with the courtroom surprises:

Так и при СССР делалось во время саммитов. Хотят избежать неприятных вопросов. После саммита все наверно станет как обычно…

And in the USSR this was done during summits. They want to avoid unpleasant questions. After the summit, everything will be like always…

Yet another comment [ru] referred to the Bolotnaya Square trial, which threatens over a dozen opposition protesters with serious prison sentences, if convicted:

создают фон для московских процессов—вера в доброго царя

They laying the groundwork for the Moscow trials—faith in the good tsar.

Is Kozlov's unexpected release from prison a beacon of hope for Russia's embattled “political prisoners,” or are the cynics right when they observe an only temporary (and thoroughly expedient) lull in Russian jurisprudence?

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