This past weekend the legal team of Mikhail Khodorkovsky suffered a great loss as Yuri Schmidt, one of Russia’s most renowned human rights lawyers, passed away at the age of 76 after a prolonged battle with cancer.
Schmidt worked until the very end to help free Khodorkovsky from his unlawful imprisonment in an impressive demonstration of his convictions. Pavel Khodorkovsky commented, “Schmidt clearly knew that he was confronting a spectre of bygone Gulag years that dragged his family apart decades earlier, yet repeated again and again: ‘I want to live to see the day when Mikhail Khodorkovsky is set free.’ He sustained us, and we held on – and for that we are indebted to him.”
Having spent a long career defending dissidents, political prisoners, and others facing persecution, the loss of Yuri Markovich has been mourned by many.
Schmidt graduated in 1960 from the Leningrad State University Faculty of Law and became a member of the Leningrad City Bar. As the Soviet Union was unravelling, in 1991 he formed the Russian Committee of Lawyers in Defence of Human Rights. In 1997 he was named Lawyer of the Year and received Russia’s prestigious Femida Award. In 1999 the International League for Human Rights bestowed upon Schmidt an honour for those having ”courageously defended the rights of others, facing persecution themselves.” In 2010 Schmidt was awarded the Dr Rainer Hildebrandt Medal, an international human rights award in recognition of extraordinary, non-violent commitment to human rights. In 2012 Schmidt received the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, for his long commitment to achieving the rule of law in Russia, as well as his international recognition as a defender of human rights.
The U.S. organisation Human Rights Watch published a eulogy, remarking that Schmidt was “a deeply principled, unrelenting fighter for human rights and one of the most respected voices in Russia’s human rights movement.”
In a statement published on their website, the German-Russian Exchange stated “It is the parting from a great upright man who first in the Soviet Union then in Russia protected the law due to an internal want and with tireless commitment, highest authenticity and professionalism.”
Lastly, Mikhail Khodorkovsky issued a statement commemorating him, commenting, “Yuri Markovich supported me greatly – not only as a lawyer, but also as a human being, someone who himself had been through much in his life and who knew people of the kind one can look up to as role models. I am never going to forget the long talks he and I had. (…) I hope that I will be able to manifest the same kind of courage when my time comes. At least I have an example to follow in my life.”
To read more about Schmidt’s life and his achievements, please visit Khodorkovsky.com.