Mikhail Khodorkovsky is not the only political prisoner in Russia

It is clear now, even to me, that Khodorkovsky is a political prisoner. But quite a few other people have been arrested in the course of the YUKOS investigation. All of them, I believe, should be considered political prisoners.

Most of these people are former employees of YUKOS and its affiliated companies. Unlike Khodorkovsky, who knew what risks he was taking, whose supporters are plenty and whose wealth is still considerable, most of these people were simply employees, neither rich nor powerful. They are not persecuted for their political convictions or actions, yet their persecution is politically motivated; hence, they, too, are political prisoners.

The most outrageous case, I think, is that of Svetlana Bakhmina, a mother of two and a former deputy head of YUKOS’ legal department. Svetlana was arrested on Dec. 7, 2004, on a YUKOS-related charge, and has been imprisoned since. Kept in a cell with nine other women, she was denied phone calls to her children (seven and three years old) and went on a hunger strike to protest the ban. Investigators interrogated her for hours on end; after an eight-hour interrogation session Svetlana, who suffers from a chronic heart disease, collapse and was taken to — alas — a prison hospital.

There is no question that keeping a mother of two small children accused of a non-violent crime in jail pending trial borders on a crime itself. But the mistreatment of Bakhmina is also a sign of an attack on a social group essential to Russia’s survival. (No, not the oligarchs.) Svetlana has two kids — a more than commendable achievement in the dying-out Russia; she’s in a position to give them a good education and raise them as good citizens; she’s well-educated herself, but more importantly, she’s dynamic, hard-working, ambitious and strong. An overachiever — an overachiever with children.

On the contrary, the investigators are probably chronic underperformers whose tenuous talents would be better utilized at street cleaning and garbage collection. What knowledge, what faith, what skills will they pass on to their kids besides their own misery and faults? Yet the barren have seized power over the fertile. The lean cows are devouring the fat cows again, not for the first time in Russian history.

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