MOSCOW (JTA) – Elie Wiesel has launched a global campaign to free former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is on trial in Moscow for embezzlement.
On the eve of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to the United States, Wiesel held a lunch June 24 for several dozen prominent Americans to discuss how to pressure Russian leadership to release Khodorkovsky, whom Wiesel called a political prisoner.
"We all believe it is a political case," said the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust memoirist at the meeting. "He is not legally convicted."
Obama and Medvedev reportedly did not discuss Khodorkovsky’s case during their June 24 meeting.
Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil company, is serving an eight-year sentence in a prison colony for fraud and tax evasion. He faces another 22 years in prison for theft and embezzlement if convicted of stealing $9.6 billion from the $15.8 billion profit generated by Yukos between 1999 and 2003, as well as 350 million tons of oil.
Elena Bonner, a prominent Russian human rights activist and public figure, who was also invited to the lunch but was not able to participate, published an open letter to the participants saying that their initiative was noble but they should not forget other political prisoners in Russia.
Leonid Nevzlin, Khodorkovsky’s former partner who immigrated to Israel in 2004, in his blog on Live Journal agreed with Bonner, the wife of the late dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, saying that the focus on political prisoners in Russia should not be solely on Khodorkovsky.