Elie Wiesel campaigns for Russian prisoner

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel

Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has launched a campaign in support of a Russian Jewish businessman facing embezzlement charges.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of the Yukos oil company and once known as Russia's richest man, is already serving an eight year prison sentence and could face another 22 years behind bars if he is convicted in a related theft case.

But Mr Wiesel, a prominent human rights campaigner, said he considers Mr Khodorkovsky a political prisoner and believed that the case was political.

One of several Jewish oligarchs whose fortunes rose after the Soviet Union crumbled; Mr Khodorkovsky was once worth nearly £10 billion through his interests in the Yukos petroleum company.

But in 2005 he was convicted of fraud and tax evasion in a case which Mr Wiesel and other supporters argue has been motivated by political disputes with the Kremlin.

Speaking at an event in New York to business leaders, Mr Wiesel said: “He is not legally convicted.”
In the crowd were experts on human rights, media and legal affairs, along with President Ronald Reagan’s former national security adviser, Richard Allen.

The meeting was planned to coincide with a visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Washington. The campaigners are looking for new ways to pressure the Russian leader to release Mr Khodorkovsky.

Another human rights campaigner, the widow of Andrei Sakharov, Yelena Bonner, was absent from the event but called on participants to focus on other political prisoners in Russia as well as Mr Khodorkovsky.

Last updated: 4:28pm, October 7 2010