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Russia: “Help Svetlana Bakhmina” Petition

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Russia, Digital Activism, Freedom of Speech, Governance, Human Rights, Law, Politics, Protest, Technology, Women & Gender

As of now, 71,250 people have signed an online petition [1] appealing to the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev [2] to pardon Svetlana Bakhmina [3], a former senior lawyer for Mikhail Khodorkovsky [4]‘s oil company Yukos [5], who was arrested in December 2004 and sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison for embezzlement and tax evasion in April 2006. Bakhmina, 39, is serving her sentence in Mordovia [6]; she has two sons whom she hasn't seen since the time of her arrest (Fyodor, 7, and Grigory, 11) and is expecting her third child to be born in December; all her appeals for a postponement of her prison term and for an early conditional release have so far been rejected by the Russian courts.

Below is the English-language text of the online petition, which is also available in Russian [7], Italian [8], Spanish [9], and French [10]:

Dear Mr. President,

Please attend to the case of Svetlana Bakhmina, a Russian citizen sentenced to a 6.5 years’ imprisonment term. In May 2008, she served half of her term. According to Russian laws, she may be released on parole.

Svetlana has two sons, aged seven and eleven. Moreover, now she is expecting her third child, which is due in December. Now Svetlana is in prison hospital. Nonetheless, the court has twice refused to release her on parole.

Mister President, we know that under the Constitution of Russian Federation, you may pardon Svetlana Bakhmina.

We, the undersigned, urge you to pardon her.

We believe that by doing so you will demonstrate to the people of Russian Federation and to the whole world that mercy and respect of human rights are the corner stones of a strong civilized state.

The online petition seems like a truly international effort: those who have signed it appear to be based not just in Russia, but in Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Poland, the United States, Canada, Israel and other countries as well. Many of the signees have chosen to use the Comments option on the petition to voice their views on the issue; below are some of the latest messages (RUS):

71143. Yablochkin Sergei Victorovich, St. Petersburg, a pensioner:

I think that keeping Ms. Bakhmina jailed in her condition isn't just cruel and extremely pointless – as long as we are still insisting that the goal of our penitentiary system is to CORRECT an individual. I'm afraid that in this situation the result will not be just another miserable mother and a child with a crippled future, but also tens of thousands people to whom no one will be able to prove from now on that they live in a civilized country.


71192. Lomov Aleksandr Igorevich, Moscow region, Chernogolovka, an entrepreneur:

It does not matter where a person used to work: Yukos or not. The law has to be stronger than this!


71199. Jarzabek Kazimierz Honoratowicz, ToruĊ„, Poland, engineer, lawyer:

[…] Here's a question: Will President Medvedev manage to act as a knight towards a woman or not? To Russia and to all of you/us, I'm wishing for the answer to be positive. I graduated from a Russian [technical university], then worked in Volgograd and Bratsk for six years. I am always interested in what's going on in Russia, though don't always understand it. Respectfully, KJ.


71201. Sukhoverkh Yevgeniy Anatolyevich, Belarus, Molodechno, correspondence student and worker:

Dear Dmitry Anatolyevich [Medvedev] and Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin]! Prove that you have hearts and souls in addition to political ambitions!


71214. Dobrynina Yelena Pavlovna, Moscow, financial employee:

I think that the law has to be the same for everyone. Both when it comes to enforcing punishment and [deciding in favor of] a release. Svetlana Bakhmina has the legal right [to be released], even if her circumstances (pregnancy and two underage children) are not taken into account.

Quite a few Russian bloggers have mentioned the online petition on their blogs; some have signed it, others haven't. LJ user bearshitsky is one of the latter; in this post [11] (RUS), he explains why he believes that Svetlana Bakhmina should be freed, but nevertheless prefers an individualist approach to supporting her plight:

[…] I am for Bakhmina's pardon. Even if what she's done [is in violation of some laws], the person who was making decisions and giving orders in Yukos – Khodorkovsky – is in jail and [it's not clear] when he is going to be released.

And three kids, and two, and even one – it's [a big deal]. Children do not live well without their mamas. And in any case, I think that four years of [penal] colony is a sufficient punishment for any non-violent crime.

But I won't leave my signature at any site. In general, I don't sign collective letter and don't take part in any [collective – kolkhoz [12] – initiatives], regardless of who is pushing me into them. That's why my signature is here:

Bershidsky Leonid from Moscow. […]

And here are some views from LJ user bearshitsky‘s readers:


No, I've signed my name in “kolkhoz.” It's one of those occasions when it's important to “have myself counted.”


To have yourself counted by whom?


By a counter :)

Actually, the whole Bakhmina story is slowly turning into a referendum. For a referendum, however, 40,000 signatures is too little. Small numbers is an argument not only against Bakhmina. That's why I want the numbers to grow.



I support pardon, but am afraid to sign. I'm not that firmly established to be appealing for people who have stood up against the regime.



I think this is right. Leonid has intuitively (or as a media person:) ) realized the following – a letter with 40,000 signatures will have no effect on the regime, because the people [in this regime] have been successfully creating such letters for the past 80 years. But 40,000 individual letters will confound [the regime] – are there really 40,000 people who have [just think of it] an opinion of their own!

LJ user leosat is one of those who signed the petition early on; he's not very optimistic, though [13] (RUS):

[…] Needless to say, petitions have no practical meaning. They couldn't care less about our opinions.

In [Bakhmina's] case, […] what's outrageous is the lack of unbiased approach to the circumstances that could facilitate the person's release. She has mastered a trade [in accordance with a requirement for inmates], something that [Mikhail Khodorkovsky has failed to do [14]], her records are excellent and she has no outstanding penalties. According to our laws, this qualifies her almost automatically for [early conditional release]. That she has two children and is also pregnant shouldn't be counted against her, at the minimum. And yet. […]

In the same post, LJ user leosat mentions another online petition [15], which is available only in Russian and urges president Medvedev not to have leniency on Svetlana Bakhmina:

A site gathering signatures for non-release of Bakhmina has appeared on the web. They've collected slightly more than a thousand signatures. People have different attitudes towards signing petitions and towards the regime that these petitions address. Taking all this into account, as well as the time that [both sites] have exited for [the anti-Bakhmina site is much younger than its pro-Bakhmina counterpart] […], I've made an assessment and concluded that compassionate people on the web outnumber the actively callous ones by five or so. […]

The copycat anti-Bakhmina initiative has so far gathered around 1,650 signatures, and at least some of them are fake. For example, LJ user avmalgin – who considers Bakhmina's imprisonment “a shame for Russia's current regime” – has discovered his own name on it [16] (RUS).