Alongside this, as set out in a joint letter by Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and three other reputable NGOs, there is evidence of: intimidation of defence counsel, Yukos executives and witnesses; repeated procedural irregularities during the second trial over the use of evidence; and prosecutorial misconduct. An assistant to the judge who convicted Khodorkovsky in his second trial in 2010 alleged that the judge had the verdict read against his will. She remarked that,

“everyone in the judicial community understands perfectly that this is a rigged case, a fixed trial”.

It is little wonder, in light of these and other facts of the case, that Amnesty International designated both Mr Khodorkovsky and Mr Lebedev “prisoners of conscience” in 2011 and that grave concerns about his treatment at the hands of Russian justice have been expressed by Parliaments in Italy, Germany and the United States, as well as by President Obama, Angela Merkel and our own Foreign Secretary.

Lastly, I turn briefly to the wider set of concerns, of which this case is merely a particular example, about access to justice in Russia. Other noble Lords have talked about people such as Sergei Magnitsky, Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estemirova. This is not an isolated case. Just last week we saw Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner, sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for embezzlement. The case bore many familiar hallmarks: ambiguity about the charges; an admission by investigators that the authorities’ inquiries were prompted by political activities on the part of the defendant; and near-universal condemnation of the verdict by Russian media and public opinion, as well as NGOs abroad. Mikhail Gorbachev commented after the verdict:

“Everything I know about this case ... unfortunately confirms we do not have independent courts”.

We are also seeing a more restrictive social and legal climate for free expression since President Putin returned to power. Human Rights Watch has commented that the Russian authorities have,

“introduced a series of restrictive laws”—

the foreign agents law, the treason law and the assembly law”—

“harassed, intimidated, and in several cases imprisoned political activists … and sought to cast government critics as clandestine enemies”.

Does the Minister share my anxiety about these developments? In what forum have the Government shared these anxieties with the Russian Government?

Finally, some may argue that issues of internal due process should remain a matter for national Governments, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Bates, alluded in his remarks. My honourable friend Emma Reynolds, the shadow Minister for Europe, has said,

“raising human rights issues is not about interfering in the affairs of the Russian Government, but is a way of holding Russia to its international obligations. Russia has signed the European convention on human rights, the universal declaration of human rights,

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the charter of Paris and the EU-Russia partnership and co-operation agreement … In signing each of those agreements, Russia made a solemn commitment to respect human rights … It is therefore reasonable to ask whether the Russian Government are living up to their side of the bargain”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 7/3/12; col. 932.]

11.12 pm

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Trimble for calling this important debate on the Khodorkovsky case, and I am grateful once again for the quality of this debate and the expertise of noble Lords.

I start by assuring noble Lords that we have raised our concerns about the serious shortcomings in the Russian judicial process and the wider human rights situation with Russia on many occasions. We will continue to encourage them to address these issues as a matter of urgency. Many noble Lords have spoken in detail of the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev. We have heard that, as his wealth grew, Khodorkovsky became increasingly politically minded, that he was cautiously critical of the Russian system of managed democracy, and that his relations with the Russian leadership took a downward turn.

The case has highlighted serious flaws in the Russian judicial process. These were compounded after new charges of theft and embezzlement were brought against him, which, critically, ensured that Khodorkovsky would not be released prior to the presidential elections in 2012. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are set to be released in 2014. I stand with those in this House and in the international community who call on the Russian Government to honour those release dates. It would send exactly the wrong message about the state of the Russian judiciary and the rule of law in Russia if their sentences were extended further.

The European Court of Human Rights ruling recognised many of the serious human rights violations suffered by Mr Khodorkovsky: degrading prison conditions; inhuman and degrading conditions in the courtroom, unjustified detention and unfair hearings. While it ruled that there was no direct proof that the prosecution was politically motivated, the court recognised that the weight of evidence presented by Mr Khodorkovsky’s lawyers would be sufficient to satisfy even the most assiduous of domestic European courts, and that they would refuse extradition, deny legal assistance and issue injunctions against the Russian Government on this evidence. As the Government have intimated on numerous occasions, we, like this House, continue to have serious concerns about the application of the law in Russia.

It is also important to put this discussion in context by setting out the current state of the rule of law in Russia, where recent cases and developments fuel concerns about the politicisation of judgments and the lack of judicial independence. Three years after Sergei Magnitsky’s death in pre-trial detention, there has been no meaningful progress towards securing justice. The investigation into his death has been dropped. The fact that

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Mr Magnitsky was posthumously convicted of tax evasion earlier this month, by definition without the opportunity to defend himself, simply adds to the already negative perceptions of the judicial process in Russia. We continue to call for a full and transparent investigation into his tragic death, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary did when he met Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier this year.

Just last week my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary again highlighted concerns about the selective application of law in Russia, this time in relation to the case of Alexei Navalny, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wood. An outspoken anti-corruption advocate, Navalny has become the face of the Russian opposition movement. But, in an increasingly familiar story, he has been charged with embezzlement. During his recent trial, his legal team were prevented from calling any defence witnesses to give evidence. On Thursday he was sentenced to five years in prison. Huge protests broke out in Moscow and on Friday he was unexpectedly released on bail, pending his appeal. In 30 days we will know the outcome of his appeal. For the moment, he will continue his campaign for the Moscow mayoral election.

One cannot ignore the common threads between these cases—the selective justice and the violations of due process—which lead to a lack of domestic and international faith in the integrity of the Russian legal system. The fact that there are scant signs of improvement is worrying.

In parallel, President Putin’s third term has been characterised by a clampdown on civil society; the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Wood, referred to some examples of this. A string of new pieces of legislation has led to a narrowing of civil liberties, with serious curbs on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly and protest. Russian people now face a fine greater than the average annual salary for violating the “public order”.

NGOs now face the threat of raids by various bodies since a new law requires any non-governmental organisation that conducts “political activity” and accepts foreign funding to bear the label of “foreign agent”. Critically, the definition of what is and what is not political is unclear. In addition, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of Russian society have been directly targeted. In June, a law was passed which bans the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations”. This effectively makes all LGBT rallies and sharing information on LGBT issues illegal and subject to heavy fines.

In short, it would be no exaggeration to say that what little progress there has been in Russia on human rights has now stalled. So now, more than ever, we must work to kick-start change. We must work to retain and build on the channels of influence we have available to us from all levels of our network. This must be our focus, and it is one from which we have not shied away.

I remind the House that the United Kingdom is unique among all EU member states in holding annual bilateral meetings to allow formal discussions about human rights. This gives us the opportunity to hold Russia to account on the human rights obligations

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into which it has entered through its participation in various United Nations conventions and the European Convention on Human Rights.

At the 2013 UK-Russia human rights dialogue, senior officials reiterated the very plain concerns articulated by my right honourable friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe, and made it clear to the Russian authorities that we hoped to see both Khodorkovsky and Lebedev released according to schedule in the second half of 2014. This dialogue is a forum in which we can confront the Russians’ shortcomings and try to call them to account.

However, this is about more than just setting out our concerns. It is also about offering support to both the Russian authorities and civil society in their efforts to try to strengthen the rule of law in Russia. On a Government-to-Government level, we signed a UK-Russia memorandum of understanding on justice co-operation in 2010. In this, we undertook to exchange information and expertise through contact between legal professionals, officials and NGOs.

There has also been high-level contact between our respective Ministries of Justice. My noble friend Lord McNally attended the St Petersburg International Legal Forum in May this year, which allowed the opportunity for us to offer support and advice on the value of a strong and independent judiciary. Russian uptake of our offers in this area has sometimes been slow since we signed the MoU, but we have a long-term commitment to delivering in this area.

We have also offered practical support and shared UK best practice through a series of projects, including working with the Supreme Commercial Court of the Russian Federation and the Russian probation service. It is true that these projects sometimes take place in a difficult environment but we believe that they have had a direct impact on the rule of law environment in Russia, and in a small way have empowered those elements, described by my noble friend Lord Alderdice, in the Russian system committed to making real progress.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked specifically about compensation to Khodorkovsky. We understand that the Russian Federation has paid him €10,000, as instructed by the European Court of Human Rights, but the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, may well have more information through his involvement.

Indeed the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, asked about our view of the European court’s delay in dealing with these cases. We recognise the importance of the European Court of Human Rights for the protection of human rights across Europe, but we recognise that it needs to be more efficient and to focus on cases where it really is needed. These were the two priorities that we felt were needed for reform of the court. The Brighton declaration agreed last April has gone some way towards achieving these, and we will continue to push for further meaningful reform when negotiations start later in the year.

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The noble Lord asked a broader question about the UK’s approach towards human rights and the European Court of Human Rights. I can assure him that the Government’s commitment to human rights is strong and clear. Human rights contain many of the basic rights and freedoms that have been fundamental to British law for centuries, such as the right to a fair trial, freedom from torture and freedom of speech. These rights are vital in Britain today, as they were in earlier years and as they are throughout the world. The Government agreed in the coalition agreement that their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights will continue to be enshrined in British law.

My noble friend Lord Alderdice spoke about the case of Pussy Riot. I can assure him that the Prime Minister raised this case specifically with President Putin. My noble friend Lord Trimble spoke about the Litvinenko case. The Government remain committed to seeking justice in this case. We want to see a trial in the United Kingdom of the suspects named by the Crown Prosecution Service. The Russian Government are in no doubt about the strength of our feeling on this case. We believe that the coroner’s inquest can continue to investigate effectively the circumstances of Mr Litvinenko’s death, and we will continue to co-operate fully with it.

My noble friend Lady Williams spoke about asylum cases from Russia. She is of course aware that asylum cases are not determined by foreign policy considerations, and that all decisions around asylum claims are taken according to the relevant UK and international laws, which are subject to strict and impartial judicial scrutiny.

My noble friend Lord Bates spoke about the broader UK-Russia relationship, and said that British foreign policy has struggled to understand Russia—to find a common mutual understanding. I accept that this is important, and that is why, although there are well known differences in the relationship, the Government have continued to favour high-level and frank dialogue with Russia.

In conclusion, it is right that the UK continues to call Russia to account for this situation and other cases. Khodorkovsky is due to be released on 15 October 2014. We must continue to encourage Russia to fulfil its commitments to strengthen the rule of law and promote the independence of the judiciary. President Putin has publicly said he wants Russia to move up the international “ease of doing business” tables, and make Russia a more attractive destination for foreign investment. For this to happen, his Government need demonstrably to support the development of a strong civil society and to demonstrate that the rule of law is respected in Russia. Business leaders must see evidence of the fair application of law. It is that climate that will bring foreign investment to Russia. The release of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev would be seen as a huge step internationally towards that goal.

House adjourned at 11.24 pm.