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Aleksanyan's Death 'Practically Murder'

APFormer Yukos vice president Vasily Aleksanyan speaking from the defendants cage in a Moscow court in 2008.

Human rights activists said former Yukos vice president Vasily Aleksanyan, who died this week of AIDS-related illnesses, would have lived longer if theauthorities had not kept him inprison fornearly three years onpolitically tainted charges.

Aleksanyan, who fought a protracted legal battle with the authorities before finally being freed on bail in 2009 to seek medical treatment, died at home Monday at the age of 39.

"It was practically a murder," rights champion Valery Borshchyov told Business FM radio on Tuesday. "He could have lived longer if he had not been kept in detention."

Rights veteran Lev Ponomaryov echoed those sentiments.

"Aleksanyan's death, no doubt, was hastened bythe fact that he was kept inprison fora long time while he was seriously sick. He went blind inprison," said Ponomaryov, Interfax reported. "We have a cruel system. Andpeople are cruel, not only thesystem."

He reiterated thebelief ofmany supporters ofAleksanyan andhis former boss, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, that thecharges ofembezzlement andtax evasion against Aleksanyan amounted toKremlin punishment forKhodorkovsky's political andcommercial ambitions.

Harvard-trained Aleksanyan, who long served as Yukos' top lawyer, quit thecompany after Khodorkovsky's arrest in2003 but returned inMarch 2006 as anexecutive vice president towork with Yukos' court-appointed bankruptcy manager, Eduard Rebgun. Amonth later, he was arrested.

Afew months after his detention, Aleksanyan learned he was HIV-positive. He also began tolose eyesight inhis one good eye. Theother eye had been blind since achildhood accident.

Aleksanyan andhis lawyers said theauthorities used his illness as abargaining chip, threatening towithhold treatment unless he agreed totestify against Khodorkovsky andhis jailed business partner Platon Lebedev.

The account is similar to the story of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose supporters say he was pressured to testify against his clients before he died of untreated health problems in a Moscow prison in 2009.

The United States in July imposed travel restrictions on a blacklist of about 60 officials implicated in Magnitsky's death.

Novaya Gazeta on Tuesday released a blacklist of 31 state officials involved in the prosecution of Aleksanyan, including Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin.

Aleksanyan's AIDS only became public knowledge inearly 2008 after Prosecutor Vladimir Khomutovsky controversially revealed it during aSupreme Court hearing.

International pressure grew throughout theyear torelease Aleksanyan onbail forhealth reasons. Inaddition tofull-blown AIDS andfading eyesight, he suffered fromliver cancer, lymphoma andtuberculosis.

InDecember 2008, theMoscow City Court ordered his release onbail of50 million rubles. He posted themoney andwas freed inJanuary 2008. But he was repeatedly summoned to attend court hearings, where he wore a face mask and could barely stand up during the proceedings. Thecase against him was only dropped last year as thestatute oflimitations ran out.

Aleksanyan "lived like ona volcano" during his final years, said Yury Shmidt, alawyer for Khodorkovsky.

"I was talking with afriend ofAleksanyan's three days ago. He told me that Vasily feels absolutely fine— he can eat, he can drink," Shmidt told Izvestia on Monday night. "But he lived all thetime insuch astate that if theslightest infection occurs, he could die ina second."

Aleksanyan is survived by his father, two brothers and a son. His funeral is planned for Thursday.

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