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Rights groups urge Russian president to free political prisoners

MOSCOW, May 22 (RIA Novosti) - Human rights activists and public figures have sent an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev urging him to start freeing political prisoners, a Russian public movement said on Thursday.

The For Human Rights organization said the appeal, hand-delivered to the Executive Office of the president, has been signed, among others, by Lyudmila Alekseyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group; Lev Ponomaryov, leader of the For Human Rights movement; Yury Ryzhov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Alexei Simonov, president of the In Defense of Glasnost foundation.

"During the election campaign you repeatedly stressed the importance of the rule of law for Russia," the letter said. "Politically motivated criminal prosecutions and politically motivated convictions are clearly at odds with the principle of the rule of law."

"We therefore urge you to pardon people who we believe have fallen victim to politically motivated persecution, and to do all within your power to ensure their freedom," the activists said.

They said the president should pardon, among others, physicist Valentin Danilov, sentenced in 2004 to 14 years in prison for spying for China; Igor Sutyagin, an arms researcher sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2004 for passing classified information to the West; Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev; and Vasily Alexanyan, a former Yukos executive now in custody on charges of embezzling $460 million from a Yukos production unit.

"Mr. President, by starting your presidential term with the pardoning of political prisoners, you will open a new page in Russian history, restoring hope for an independent judiciary," the letter said.

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