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13 Powerful Quotes From Russia’s Most Famous Political Prisoner

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was once the wealthiest man in Russia.

RT / Via

He became an oligarch in the chaotic and ruthless post-Soviet 1990s and eventually built the country’s biggest oil firm, Yukos.

But he was ultimately thrown in jail after he challenged Vladimir Putin and called him out on the corruption of the Russian government.

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On October 25, 2003 he was arrested and eventually sentenced to seven years on charges of fraud and tax evasion. As his sentence was nearing its end, he was sentenced to a further seven years on charges of embezzlement and money laundering.

Trinity Film / Via

He has called all charges against him politically motivated.

His jail term runs out in August 2014, but few believe he will be released as long as Putin is in power.

Trinity Film / Via

In jail, he has transformed from oligarch to political freedom fighter, going through hunger strikes and reaching out to other political prisoners. These are his most poignant quotes:

1. “I am ashamed to watch as some people who I respected in the past try to justify bureaucratic arbitrariness and lawlessness. They are trading their reputations for a comfortable life inside the present system, for privileges and handouts.”

Misha Japaridze, File / AP

From his final statement of his second trial.

2. “We were able to make a hydrogen bomb and even a ballistic missile, but we are still unable to manufacture our own quality, modern television; our own inexpensive, competitive, modern car; our own mobile phones; and many more modern products.”

Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

His thoughts on Russia’s failed attempts at modernizing the economy. From his final statement of his second trial.

3. “I am proud that among the thousands of Yukos employees…no one was found who would give false testimony, who would sell their soul and their conscience. Dozens of people were threatened, were torn away from their loved ones, thrown into dungeons.”

Edgar Su / Reuters

From his final statement of his second trial.

4. “They are watching with the hope that Russia will after all become a country of freedom and of the law…where human rights will no longer depend on the mood of the tsar — good or evil.”

Grigory Dukor / Reuters

In reference to the whole world watching and waiting for the verdict of this case. From his final statement of his second trial.

5. “I am far from an idealist, but I am a person with ideals. And like anyone, it is difficult for me to live in prison, and I don’t want to die here. But if I have to, I will not hesitate. The things I believe in are worth dying for.”

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

From his final statement of his second trial.

6. “I personally don’t fear prison. I’ve become accustomed to it…it’s not going to drive me to depression. I’m not the only Russian prisoner who’s had to learn to live with uncertainty about the time of his release.”

Viktor Korotayev / Reuters

From a recent interview with FT Magazine.

7. “When you are getting your fingers smashed with a hammer, which one hurts the most? Perhaps the first one. But more likely it comes in waves.”

Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr, File / AP

In reference to the pain he feels over the consequences his conviction had on Yuko employees and his family. From a recent interview with FT Magazine.

8. “Freedom is multi-faceted. I can not be with the people I love, but I can speak and think.”

Sergey Ponomarev / AP

In a Q&A from 2009.

9. “I have three children and I want to give them a good education. I want to, and I will work with new meaning: not as the owner of an oil company, but for the good of my country and my people. Whatever the court’s decision will be.”

Denis Sinyakov / Reuters

The ending of his closing statement from his first trial.

10. “Often stupidity, laziness, cowardice, ambitions, or greed get in the way of our acting the way we should. But in our soul we know precisely when [we’ve acted] ‘in conscience’ and when against it.”

Denis Sinyakov / Reuters

From a Q&A from readers of his book, Prison and Freedom.

11. “Complete lawlessness towards a powerful person will turn into even greater and wider-scale lawlessness in relation to ordinary people.”

Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

In regards to people who think he “got what he deserved.” From a recent interview with FT Magazine.

12. “Your statements in court during the trial really showed your opponents for what they are. You were on a level – including your cultural level – that they could probably never even hope to attain.”

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

In an open letter to Pussy Riot.

13. “You cannot swim against the inexorable flow of history. The era of unbelief and indifference is ending. Everyone who refuses to slander for the sake of his own well-being… is doing something to make our country a better place.”

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

In an open letter regarding the trial of Alexei Navalny.

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