Alexey Pichugin was the first victim of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s drawn-out campaign to expropriate Yukos Oil Company and to destroy the company’s leaders, whom he considered political enemies. Mr. Pichugin was not a Yukos leader. He was a manager at Yukos within the security department of the company, responsible for vetting new employees, building security, and investigating theft. Like other Yukos employees, Mr. Pichugin nonetheless became a means for Mr. Putin to achieve his ends.
Unlike other Yukos employees, or even company leaders, Mr. Pichugin remains locked away, held at the notorious “Black Dolphin” prison in distant Siberia, continually pressured to bear false witness against former Yukos Chairman Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Deputy Chairman Leonid Nevzlin. Twice the European Court of Human Rights has issued judgments that his treatment violates his basic rights. In both cases, Russia ignored those judgments.
Mr. Pichugin has been imprisoned since 2003. He is a prisoner of conscience, refusing to buy his freedom with perjury in order to advance Mr. Putin’s political agenda. Mr. Pichugin has been described as Russia’s longest-serving political prisoner. So he is.