Human rights watchdog Amnesty International declared on Tuesday jailed Russian tycoons Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev "prisoners of conscience" after a second prison sentence against them was upheld.
A Moscow appeals court upheld the multi-million dollar theft and money laundering conviction against the two convicts on Tuesday and reduced their 14-year sentence by one year.
"For several years now these two men have been trapped in a judicial vortex that answers to political not legal considerations," Amnesty Europe and Central Asia director Nicola Duckworth said. "Today's verdict makes it clear that Russia's lower courts are unable, or unwilling, to deliver justice in their cases."
Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were originally convicted of fraud and tax evasion in a separate trial in 2005 after spending two years in pre-trial detention. The new ruling means they will stay in prison until at least 2016, well after next year's presidential election.
The case is widely viewed as a political vendetta by Russia's powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin, whom Khodorkovsky challenged by funding liberal opposition parties in the early 2000s.
Khodorkovsky and Lebedev's lawyers described the court ruling as a "cosmetic reconstruction" intended to give the initial harsh verdict a semblance of fairness. They said they will appeal the new decision.
In February, a court aide claimed that the judge who passed December's verdict had received instructions from the Moscow City Court. The judge has described the allegations as slander.
Western governments condemned December's verdict, saying it raised questions about Russia's commitment to the rule of law.
MOSCOW, May 24 (RIA Novosti)