Russia's former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev have applied for an early release from prison, where they are serving a 13-year term.

The two inmates are entitled to ask for parole, having served more than half of their two sentences. Their first sentence for tax evasion expires later this year, but in December 2010 a Moscow court had slapped on them a new prison term for fraud.

On Tuesday the European Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg, ordered the Russian government to pay $35,000 to Khodorkovsky and Lebedev as compensation for violation of their rights after they were arrested in 2003 but said there were no sufficient grounds for seeing political motives behind their first trial. Khodorkovsky continues to insist he is not guilty. “I do not acknowledge my guilt, since I am continuing to dispute the court's verdict,” he wrote in his application for parole. Khodorkovsky's first request for parole was rejected in 2008, but analysts say his chances are better now that President Dmitry Medvedev is seeking to strengthen his liberal credentials ahead of presidential elections due next year.

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