Russia opposition figures calls for "prisoner day"

MOSCOW Sun Jul 6, 2008 11:12am EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian dissident launched a campaign on Sunday in support of what he called political prisoners, demanding President Dmitry Medvedev free 25 people - including jailed oil boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Eduard Limonov, the leader of the banned National Bolshevik party and a key organizer of the anti-Kremlin 'Other Russia' protests with chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, called for a union of what he says are current or ex-political prisoners.

National Bolshevik members have been enthusiastic participants in direct-action protests, and have been imprisoned as a result, but the fringe party has little public support.

Russian authorities deny any prisoners can be defined as political and recoil from linkages between the Soviet-era gulag prison camps and recent detentions.

"We want all Russians to recognize September 14th as 'Prisoner Day'," a former spokesman for the National Bolshevik party, Alexander Averin told Reuters.

The union hopes to promote public awareness of what it says are political prisoners, improve prison conditions and change Russian laws to make it harder to imprison people for crimes that it says are politically motivated.

"There are currently 25 people in jail, including Khodorkovsky, who are political prisoners and we demand Medvedev must free them," he said.

The head of the Russia's oldest human rights body, the Moscow Helsinki Group, Ludmilla Alexeeva, backed Limonov's plans and was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying "there are political prisoners" in Russia.

Limonov plans to hold a rally in Russia's Gorky Park on September 14. Averin said there were no intention to link up with other political parties but hoped that a large number of Muscovites would join the September protest.

Opposition leaders in Russia are still waiting to see if the political climate under newly-elected Medvedev is different to that of his predecessor, Vladimir Putin.

Some opposition figures like Kasparov and Limonov have been detained for participating in unsanctioned protests, though neither has received as much attention as former Yukos boss Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man.

Currently half-way through an eight-year term for tax evasion and fraud, new money laundering charges were laid against Khodorkovsky on June 30.

Limonov calculates that over the past eight years more than 150 people from his party - now banned on the grounds it promoted extremism - served time in jail for offences that are politically-linked, said Averin.

(Reporting by Conor Sweeney; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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