News is beginning to break that Mikhail Khodorkovsky is on a dry hunger strike – he is refusing all food and water – in support of his jailed colleague Platon Lebedev. Lebedev, who is thought to be ill, was placed into solitary confinement last week after allegedly refusing to take his daily walk.
The BBC quotes the following extracts from Khodorkovsky’s statement, read by his lawyer:
"On August 19… my comrade Platon Lebedev was moved to
a 3 sq m [32 sq ft] isolation cell. Platon is seriously ill," the
"It is obvious that they threw my friend into the
isolation cell to get their revenge on me, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, for
[giving] articles and interviews."
"He knows he is not alone," the statement added.
"Let the Kremlin think it is showing strength, in fact it is a display of their weakness and fear.
"Being in no condition to enter an open political
discussion with me, they use the last weapons – an isolation cell and a
I hate to sound cynical, but does anybody really imagine that this dry hunger strike will last? I don’t.
All hunger strikes are – to an extent – publicity stunts. Some are more desperate than others, but the aim is always to appeal to the decency and sympathy of outsiders. And Khodorkovsky’s is no exception. But I do wonder whether this is a mistake on his part.
I don’t necessarily doubt Khodorkovsky’s sincerity, and the importance he attaches to the plight of his friend. But I don’t think that many others will believe that Platon Lebedev’s isolation is an issue worth making such a strong statement over. People aren’t going to cry out in sufficient numbers to force the Russian government to back down over the issue and Khodorkovsky will have to either continue his strike or back down himself. Given his current political position – martyr, potential (although still long shot) challenger to Putin – it simply isn’t in his interests to continue the strike to an extreme over this issue. If he does, he’ll look like he is overreacting. And, if he backs down he will lose face.