Mercury Rev: has a Russian human rights lawyer been poisoned?

There’s very worrying news around about the possible poisoning of leading Russian human rights lawyer Karinna Moskalenko.

The French police have started an investigation after she and her family became ill on Monday. It seems the French authorities have found a mercury-like substance in the lawyer’s car. More here and here.

It’s too early to know what this is about, but Karinna Moskalenko is without question a high-profile lawyer who has won some 27 cases against the Russian government at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and represented some of the Russian government’s biggest critics, including Mikhail Khodorkovksy. See her Wikipedia (which, impressively, has already been updated to include the poisoning incident).

We need to be careful not to jump to conclusions but it’s nevertheless true that Moskalenko was a thorn in the side of the Kremlin. Other critics of Moscow have – just to relate the simple facts as they stand – been killed in mysterious circumstance. Alexander Litvinenko, the writer and dissident, was poisoned in London in November 2006, while of course the Amnesty award-winning journalist (and close associate of Moskalenko) Anna Politkovksya was murdered just weeks earlier the same year. (Politkoskaya had also survived an alleged poisoning attempt two years previously).

The Politkovskaya link may be important. Moskalenko was due to travel to Moscow for the start of the (long-delayed) Politkovskaya murder trial, which begins today. She hasn’t been able to go because she’s unwell.

Read Amnesty Russia country coordinator Sara Hall’s article on the Politkovskaya trial, just up on the New Statesman site yesterday.

How all this will play out is impossible to predict. If the Russian secret services were in any way involved, would we ever find out? Or, on the other hand, could it all be some kind of bizarre false alarm?

What is not in doubt, however, is that Russia has a very poor record of protecting its journalist, lawyers, dissidents and others perceived to be “opponents” of the government from attacks of various kinds. Read Amnesty’s full report on this.

As it happens my girlfriend (yes, her again!) knows Karinna Moskalenko and is very upset at this news. Let’s hope that Karinna makes a full recovery and gets back to her job of defending human rights at the courts in Strasbourg.

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