Court Backs Jailed Yukos Lawyer

A top regional court on Wednesday opened the door to the possibility that jailed Yukos lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina will be granted early release, albeit no sooner than early summer.

The Mordovian Supreme Court overturned a lower court's refusal to free Bakhmina, sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison in April 2006 on politically tinged charges of embezzlement and tax evasion and ordered a re-examination of her case, court spokeswoman Natalya Spirina told The Moscow Times.

"The appeal for Bakhmina's early release will be examined by the court in a month at the earliest," Spirina said by telephone from Saransk. "The process will be extended as Svetlana is located in Moscow at the moment."

Bakhmina is hospitalized in a Moscow hospital after complications from giving birth to a daughter Nov. 28.

"Svetlana and her daughter feel well at the moment," Bakhmina's lawyer Roman Golovkin said by telephone. "But this is hard emotionally because they keep shattering our hopes for an early release."
 
Bakhmina, who also has two young sons, had two release appeals rejected in May and September last year.

Golovkin said a lower court would make a ruling in three or four months only. "We are disappointed that the re-examination will last so long," he said.

The case might be heard by the Zubovo-Polyansky District Court, which rejected Bakhmina's appeal in September, or might be transferred to a court in the Moscow region, Golovkin said.

Bakhmina's plight has stirred public sentiment and outrage. More than 92,000 people have signed an online petition at the web site Bakhmina.ru, calling on President Dmitry Medvedev to issue a pardon.

At the same time, former army Colonel Yury Budanov, sentenced to 10 years for killing Chechen woman Elza Kungayeva, 18, in 2000, walked free from an Ulyanovsk prison last Thursday. He has maintained that he believed Kungayeva was a rebel sniper and strangled her in a fit of rage during an interrogation. An Ulyanovsk court ordered his early release on Dec. 24 for good behavior and time served in pretrial detention.

Budanov's release has sparked outrage among human rights groups and senior Chechen officials, fueled by Monday's murder of Kungayeva's family lawyer, Stanislav Markelov, in central Moscow.