Top Kremlin Foe Dies Of AIDS After Prison Ordeal, Raising Human Rights Questions

Vasily Aleksanyan is dead at 38. He used to be a lawyer and top executive of oil company Yukos, whose chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky is in jail since 2003. Aleksanyan had long battled with Russian authorities to be released from jail to be treated for AIDS.

File image shows Aleksanyan before a court appearance (Canvas TV)
File image shows Aleksanyan before a court appearance (Canvas TV)

Worldcrunch *NEWSBITES

MOSCOW - Vasily Aleksanyan, a former jailed executive of oil company Yukos, had long battled with Russian authorities to be released from jail to be able to get AIDS treatment. Now, at the age of 38, Aleksanyan has died at his Moscow home.

The former oil executive, who had full-blown AIDS, lymphoma and tuberculosis, was arrested in April 2006 on charges of embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion. Similar charges had landed his boss, the billionaire Yukos chief-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in jail, where he has remain confined since 2003.

The European Court of Human Rights had urged three times that Aleksanyan be hospitalized, saying the Russian authorities "had not shown the necessary care, which caused him severe suffering." Nevertheless, he was kept in jail.

Aleksanyan was finally released on bail of $1.8 million in December 2008 when the statute of limitations expired on his case. Aleksanyan had been Yukos' top lawyer but quit the company after Khodorkovsky's arrest in 2003.

He returned in March 2006 as an executive vice-president to work on the company's bankruptcy proceedings before being arrested the following month.

Later that year, he learned he was HIV-positive and his lawyers said the authorities used his illness as a means to force him to testify against Khodorkovsky. He was allowed to leave the country and received treatment in Israel, but its benefits were short-lived. His lawyer, Yuri Shmidt, who also represents Khodorkovsky told Kommersant "I spoke with (him) three days ago, and Vasily's condition was very serious."

Human rights activists compare the case to that of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who was arrested while investigating alleged fraud by government officials, and later died in prison.

"We were hoping until the last moment that the news of his death was not true," another Yukos lawyer said.

Read the full article in Russian by Nicolai Sergeyev

photo - Canvas TV

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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