Trial Stops But Judges Won't Free Aleksanyan

ReutersKhodorkovsky taking a drink Wednesday in a court in Chita. He is on a hunger strike in support of Aleksanyan.
Moscow's Simonovsky District Court on Wednesday adjourned the trial of former Yukos executive Vasily Aleksanyan so that he could be treated for an AIDS-related terminal illness, but did not order his release from detention.

Judge Olga Nedelina cited the opinion of a group of medical experts delivered Monday that Aleksanyan, 36, required treatment in a specialized clinic for the lymphoma he has contracted as a result of his weakened immune system.

While granting an adjournment in Aleksanyan's trial for embezzlement and tax evasion, Nedelina refused to overturn a 2006 ruling mandating that the defendant remain in jail pending the outcome of the trial.

"This is a serious discrepancy in the ruling," defense lawyer Yelena Lvova told reporters outside the courtroom after the decision.

"On one hand, it recognizes that he is in need of treatment in a specialized clinic, while on the other it says the hospital at the detention facility has everything necessary for his treatment," Lvova said.

She also said the defense would appeal the ruling on the grounds that it did not take proper account of the medical ruling or of three requests from the European Court for Human Rights that he be transferred to a specialized medical facility.

Prosecutor Nikolai Vlasov praised the ruling, however, saying judges should not be called on to act as doctors and can only rule on whether a suspect should remain in custody while on trial.

He said questions related to medical treatment should be left to the doctors at the detention facility.

"If they decide he needs to be placed in a specialized clinic, let it be so," Vlasov said. "But he will still be under guard there."

Asked whether he thought Aleksanyan was in any condition to represent a flight risk, Vlasov said he was not medically qualified to answer.

Aleksanyan, who appeared ashen, almost blue, during the hearing, told reporters from the defendant's cage that he had not received any treatment specific to his illness while in detention and had little hope of receiving any while he remained behind bars.

"They do not treat me there," he said.

On being led out of the courtroom by guards, Aleksanyan, who was having visible difficulties walking, was greeted by chants of "Freedom" from journalists.

Gevorg Dangyan, another member of Aleksanyan's legal team said no treatment had been provided since his client signed a written consent to undergo treatment for AIDS in July.

"He was given no anti-retroviral therapy medication," Dangyan said, adding that Aleksanyan had also not been offered chemotherapy to treat the lymphoma.

Federal Prison Service head Yury Kalinin said Aleksanyan had access to "modern, qualified medical treatment, including for the diseases from which he suffers," in a statement issued Friday.

Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Federal AIDS Center, said that, while conditions for inmates in detention facilities who required medical treatment are poor at some facilities, they are improving.

In the past, the responsibility for distributing medicines for inmates suffering from AIDS fell to regional governments, despite the fact that the detention facilities are under federal jurisdiction, Pokrovsky said. The medicines are now distributed as part of a federal program, he said.

He said a factor compounding the problems in Aleksanyan's case was the fact that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of cancer of the blood, RIA-Novosti reported.

"This has made it much more difficult to determine a proper treatment because drugs to combat AIDS can generate serious side effects when taken together with those to treat cancer," he said.

The Federal Prison Service said Tuesday that treating Aleksanyan in the detention facility would be "difficult" because he had been diagnosed with lymphoma, Interfax reported.

Aleksanyan's former boss, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence for a conviction on fraud and tax evasion charges, told journalists in a court in Chita on Wednesday that he would continue his hunger strike in protest of the prosecutors' handling of Aleksanyan's case, Interfax reported.

"I am only drinking water and will only halt my strike when my calls [for Aleksanyan's release] are considered," he said, adding that he had not even been drinking the water until he had been told of some improvement in Aleksanyan's situation.

Chita Regional Court ruled Wednesday to give Khodorkovsky more time to familiarize himself with new charges of embezzlement and money laundering brought against him last year.

Aleksanyan charges that the authorities are denying him medical treatment because he has refused to help them in making that case against Khodorkovsky in the new trial.