/ 7 February 2008

Russia says it will move Aids prisoner to hospital

Russia’s prison service bowed to international pressure on Thursday by saying it would transfer Vasily Alexanian, an inmate gravely ill with HIV/Aids, to a specialist clinic.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has issued three instructions to the Russian authorities to move Alexanian to a hospital. He has said he will die unless he receives life-saving treatment only available outside prison.

Valery Zaitsev, deputy spokesperson for the federal prisons service, said Alexanian (36) would be transferred to a clinic ”in the near future”.

He did not say where Alexanian would be treated. ”That will be determined by the doctors, not by us. They will establish the diagnosis and decide what clinic he needs to be sent to,” he said by telephone.

Zaitsev said Alexanian would be under guard by prison officers while in the clinic.

A former vice-president of the now-defunct Yukos oil company, Alexanian says he is nearly blind, has cancer of the lymph nodes and suspected tuberculosis.

He has accused prosecutors of deliberately denying him adequate treatment to blackmail him into giving evidence against Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is in a Siberian jail and may face trial on a new set of charges this year.

Yelena Lvova, one of Alexanian’s legal team, told Reuters she had not been informed of the decision to move her client to a clinic.

”We have been hearing about this for four months. Now the question is when it happens. He should be moved to a clinic immediately,” she said.

Alexanian is on trial on charges of fraud and tax evasion. Prosecutors deny mistreating him. They have accused him of refusing to accept the medical treatment offered to him in prison in a ploy to delay his trial.

His supporters say he has been caught up in a witch-hunt against Khodorkovsky, who was imprisoned in what was widely regarded as a Kremlin campaign to punish the tycoon for his political ambitions.

On Wednesday, a Moscow district court ordered that Alexanian’s trial be suspended while he received treatment. But it rejected a defence request for him to be released on bail.

Late last month Khodorkovsky announced he was going on hunger strike to show solidarity with Alexanian. One of Alexanian’s brothers works as a translator in the Reuters Moscow bureau. – Reuters