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Russian court denies parole to pregnant YUKOS lawyer

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court denied parole to a pregnant mother-of-two who supporters say was swept up in a Kremlin campaign to punish oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the judge who heard the case said on Wednesday.

Svetlana Bakhmina, a former lawyer with Khodorkovsky’s now-defunct YUKOS oil company, requested early release after serving over half of her 6-1/2 year sentence for embezzlement and tax evasion.

Yevgeny Kuzmin, judge at the court in the Zubovo-Polyansky district of the Mordovia region in central Russia where Bakhmina is being held in a penal colony, said he had heard her parole application on September 10.

“She was denied release,” Kuzmin told Reuters by telephone. “The reason for the denial is in the court’s resolution, but this resolution is only available to parties in the case.”

Supporters of 38-year-old Bakhmina say she was the victim of an indiscriminate campaign to jail YUKOS employees and that the judge who sentenced her did not take into account the fact she was raising two young sons.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, is serving an eight-year sentence in eastern Siberia for fraud and tax evasion. His oil company was bankrupted by tax claims and its key assets acquired at auction by state-owned firms.

Khodorkovsky says the charges were fabricated to punish him for challenging the Kremlin’s political dominance. Officials say he is a criminal who received a fair trial.

Bakhmina has two sons under the age of 11 and is also six months pregnant, according to court documents seen by Reuters. Russian prisons allow conjugal visits for some inmates.

The district court in Mordovia had already turned down a parole request from Bakhmina in May, citing the fact that she had been reprimanded for misdemeanours in prison.

Mordovia’s Supreme Court in July overturned the earlier ruling and ordered that the parole request be considered again.

The Supreme Court said in its ruling, seen by Reuters, that the lower court had failed to take into account Bakhmina’s good overall behaviour and positive reports from prison officials, factors it said could have influenced the court’s decision.

Last month a court in eastern Siberia rejected an application from Khodorkovsky for early release, saying he had not shown sufficient willingness to reform.

Reporting by Ludmila Danilova and Dmitry Zhdannikov; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by