18 October 2016
By Vera Vasilieva
Photo: Aleksei Pichugin and Alla Nikolaevna Pichugina (from a family album)
Alla Nikolaevna Pichugina, the mother of former Yukos oil company employee Aleksei Pichugin, has petitioned Vladimir Putin to pardon her son.
Her оpen letter appeared in Novaya Gazeta, issue no. 117, on Wednesday, 19 October.
I first saw Alla Nikolaevna at the door to room 507 on the fifth floor of the Moscow City Court on the day the trial began in Aleksei Pichugin’s second criminal case, 3 April 2006. Unlike the previous case, this case was heard in open court, and anyone who wished to could attend the trial, which I did.
I remember, I was struck by the outward resemblance between the defendant and one of the spectators, who, as I later learned, was Alla Nikolaevna. Eyes, hair, facial features . . . Actually, later I realized that the resemblance was by no means only outward and not only in their handwriting—my correspondence with Aleksei, which also began in the spring of 2006, would last another ten and a half years. The sense of self-worth, the nobility, the modesty, the ability not to be bitter despite circumstances, and the truly Christian worldview that Alla Nikolaevna refers to in her letter is innate to them both.
Аleksei Pichugin was the first to be arrested in the “Yukos case,” on 19 June 2003. And he is the last person from the oil company to remain behind bars, to the present day.
Years of acquaintance eventually tied me to Alla Nikolaevna. In that time I learned, for example, that she took the commuter train from Moscow region, where she lived, to the Moscow City Court, a trip that took a total of a few hours, in order to arrive for the start of each court session. This happened even during the first—closed—trial, when there was no chance whatsoever of getting inside.
“I would crack the door a little to get a peek, and they would slam it right in my face. But I still sat through the entire trial behind the door,” Alla Nikolaevna told me in an interview.
This went on for more than three years, from 4 October 2004 (the date hearings began in the first criminal case in Moscow City Court) to 31 January 2008 (when the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation refused to hear Aleksei Pichugin’s appeal against his life sentence). As we know, there were two criminal cases against Aleksei Pichugin, but there were three hearings because the second criminal case was considered by the Moscow City Court twice. During the second and third trials, sessions were held four days a week, often for eight hours a day. Alla Nikolaevna didn’t miss one of them.
Over the course of the more than thirteen years of Aleksei’s imprisonment, his mother wrote him letters every other day. First to the Lefortovo pretrial detention center, then to Matrosskaya Tishina [Sailor’s Rest] prison, to Cherny Delfin [Black Dolphin], a prison colony for prisoners serving life sentences, then back to Mastrosskaya Tishina (in April 2008, when the prisoner was brought in for questioning in the case against former Yukos Vice President Leonid Nevzlin at the Moscow City Court, where he once again would not give false testimony), and to Cherny Delfin. . . . Now, since July of this year, after he had served eight years in the prison colony, she was again writing to Lefortovo.
In turn, Aleksei himself in his letters worries about his now grown sons and his two grandchildren and about his mother, whom he missed very much. He is concerned about all his relatives, friends, and even acquaintances. He never tires of thanking everyone who has supported his mother. “Over and over again I send my deepest thanks to everyone who has written to me, prayed for me, helped and supported me, who has stood by me and those close to me, who has stood by my mother and family!” he writes in the most recent letter I received.
Alla Nikolaevna’s letter is the second attempt to inform Vladimir Putin of her petition for a pardon for Aleksei Pichugin. He himself submitted the first petition—without admission of guilt—in November 2015. But now the previous commission on pardons has been replaced by a complicated hierarchical bureaucratic structure. Petitions now are submitted in written form through the prison colony administration and go through the USFIN [Federal Penitentiary System Administration] territorial agency, the regional governor, and so forth. Only after that does a petition end up on the Russian president’s desk. Or doesn’t—as happened with Aleksei Pichugin’s petition. As a result, despite the fact that, according to the Russian Constitution (pt. 3, Art. 50, point “v,” p. 89), only the Russian president has the right to pardon, the denial was signed by Orenburg region Governor Yury Berg.
Current legislation contains no restrictions of any kind regarding who can petition for a pardon or sentence reduction. In my opinion, those who cite precedent, according to which a pardon must always be requested personally, should bear the following in mind. Nowhere in the legislation does it say that citizens do not have the right to petition for pardon for someone else, or, if they do so petition, that these appeals should be ignored.
True, there is a restriction in accordance with which, in the event of denial of a petition for pardon, the appeal cannot be considered again until at least a year has passed.
However, nothing and no one can restrict the president himself in his exclusive right to pardon any person at any moment on his own initiative.
Nowhere in the law does it say that the president cannot pardon a person without any appeal coming from any direction.
Nor are any grounds or consideration of additional circumstances, such as the admission or nonadmission of guilt, the gravity of the charges brought, and so forth, required. The head of state has the right to pardon a convicted person simply based on humanitarian considerations.
It is my deep conviction that the pardoning of Aleksei Pichugin would allow us to close, at last, a criminal case with a bad reputation that has dragged on for more than a decade and to close the many unpleasant questions that the defence has inevitably been compelled to keep raising as long as the man is behind bars.
I hope very much that mother and son will finally see each other. Not through glass or bars, but in freedom.
Translated by Marian Schwartz
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