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Jailed Russian tycoon is honored by Lech Walesa

September 29, 2013

GDANSK, Poland (AP) — A son of Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky received a $100,000 human rights award on behalf of his imprisoned father on Sunday during a ceremony in Poland conducted by Solidarity founder Lech Walesa.

The award, announced on Thursday, was bestowed in recognition of the tycoon’s efforts to build a free economy and a civil society in Russia.

In the ornate 14th-century Artus Court in Gdansk, Walesa gave the award to 28-year-old Pavel, Khodorkovsky’s eldest child, who read his father’s letter of thanks in English.

In a speech he said the award is a great encouragement to his father, at a time when he needs it, and a sign that “Poland and Europe are right behind” him . Pavel Khodorkovsky lives in New York, where he heads the Institute of Modern Russia think tank.

Walesa said he hopes that “our recognition for suffering and struggle will bring effects.”

Once Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky has been convicted in two separate trials in his country of evading taxes, stealing oil from his own company and laundering the proceeds. He has spent nearly 10 years in prison and is due for release in 2014.

At the time of his arrest in 2003 most Russians were pleased to see Putin reining in the oligarchs, who had gained fantastic wealth and political influence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Khodorkovsky’s demeanor during his trials and his writings from prison have earned him much respect.

His case is seen as Putin’s punishment for Khodorkovsky’s political ambitions and support for the opposition. Amnesty International has declared Khodorkovsky a prisoner of conscience.

As a Gdansk shipyard electrician, Walesa received the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize for founding Solidarity, the Polish freedom movement that grew out of worker discontent. In 1989 it peacefully ousted communism from Poland and the following year Walesa became Poland’s first popularly elected president.

He has since withdrawn from active politics but continues to support pro-democracy efforts around the world, including the Lech Walesa human rights award that he founded in 2008.

Walesa turned 70 on Sunday, and the award-giving ceremony began with presents, flowers and good wishes for him.

Afterward, a birthday party was held for Walesa at the Abbots’ Palace in Gdansk, attended by hundreds of people, including government officials, public figures and Pavel Khodorkovsky.

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