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Former Yukos oil boss writes columns from prison

The pen may well prove mightier than the sword for jailed Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has reportedly started writing a newspaper column from his prison cell.

Khodorkovsky, the former boss of now defunct Russian oil company Yukos and once the country’s wealthiest man, is a long-time critic of the Kremlin and has previously had articles published expressing his political views.

He has now been signed up by Russian weekly The New Times to write a column, entitled Jail People, about his life behind bars and fellow prisoners, the BBC reported.

The former tycoon, who is still believed to have a few hundred million dollars in the bank, is currently doing time after being sentenced to eight years in prison in 2003 for alleged fraud and tax evasion during Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s previous tenure as president.

Khodorkovsky, along with co-defendant Platon Lebedev, were sentenced to another 14 years in December last year on charges of embezzlement and money laundering, with the prison term to run concurrently with his earlier sentence. There has consistently been speculation that the charges against the oilgarch were politically motivated and a ploy by the Kremlin to remove Khodorkovsky, who before his arrest had provided funding to parties opposing Putin.

However, it appears Khodorkovsky refuses to be silenced and remains intent on being a thorn in the side of Putin even before his expected release in 2016, after his latest sentence was reduced to 13 years on appeal.
In his column, which reads very differently to his earlier political polemic, he aims to lift the lid on life inside in today’s Russia – and that could prove embarrassing for Kremlin leaders.

"I often feel terror at just how human lives are being wasted, at destinies broken by self and by the soulless System," Khodorkovsky, who was previously incarcerated in Siberia, wrote in his column.

Further, he wrote: “"Prison is a place where one can meet the most extraordinary people. I will try to write about some people and situations, somewhat changing their names..."

In one graphic account, he tells the story of a 23-year-old prisoner named Kolya who he claimed cut open his stomach and threw his intestines at a prison guard – and still lived to tell the tale. A spokesman for the Russian prison system was reported as saying that Khodorkovsky was not breaking any rules by becoming a columnist.

However, his revelations of prison life could well provide a stern test of freedom of expression in post-communist Russia and may yet risk censorship if they simply prove too much to stomach for Russia’s leadership.

Source: Upstream Online

08/30/2011

 

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