[JURIST] Former oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] called for a reform of Russia's court system in an article [text, in Russian] published Monday in the weekly magazine Kommersant Vlast [media website, in Russian]. The jailed former Yukos [JURIST news archive] chief executive said that putting an end to corruption and political pressure should be a governmental priority and is crucial for Russia's future. Khodorkovsky argued that, without preventative judicial reform, there will be no true democracy or liberalization in Russia since the rights of citizens depends on their ability to complain about an infringement of their rights and freedoms and "count on an unbiased verdict." Legislative reforms will not work without an independent court to stop the violation or improper application of such laws, he argued. Advocating for reform, Khodorkovsky described the current judicial system as being composed of a "special department of the executive branch" and "a conglomerate of special units of large and medium corporations." Such a system, Khodorkovsky said, has previously failed because government officials and the elite do not want a fully independent "third power" but rather want a system that will "fulfill their direct or indirect instructions" or respond to bribes. Khodorkovsky connected past problems with instituting democracy in Russia with a lack of a tribunal that gives equal chances to "master and servant," and "the State and its subjects."
Earlier this month, the Moscow City Court rejected [JURIST report] Khodorkovsky's appeals concerning embezzlement, oil theft, and money laundering charges. In March, Khodorkovsky criticized Russian trials [JURIST report] as being restricted and resulting in hopeless situations for those accused who choose not to plead guilty. In April, Moscow's Khamovniki Borough Court refused [RIA Novosti report] to refer the case back to prosecutors after the Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website] both pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the additional charges of money laundering and embezzlement. Their lawyers also challenged [RIA Novosti report] the charges on grounds of insufficient evidence and technical errors. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were initially convicted and jailed [JURIST report] in 2005 on fraud and tax evasion charges stemming from an alleged attempt to embezzle and strip Yukos of valuable assets. They are currently serving an eight-year prison sentence and could face up to 20 additional years if convicted on the current charges.