Posthumous trial of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky is 'farcical' and 'sinister'

Trial ‘would open a whole new chapter in Russia’s worsening human rights record’ - John Dalhuisen

The forthcoming posthumous trial of a whistle-blowing Russian lawyer is a “travesty” and a “sinister” attempt to deflect attention from those who committed the crimes he exposed, said Amnesty International today, ahead of a preliminary trial hearing in Moscow on Monday 28 January.

Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer and accountant who worked with foreign corporate clients in Russia, died in jail in 2009 after nearly a year in custody.

A year earlier Magnitsky had uncovered a high-scale tax fraud which allegedly cost the Russian government over £125 million. After testifying about his discovery to the Russian criminal investigation authorities, he was himself arrested on charges of tax fraud on 24 November 2008. At least one police investigator put in charge of the case against him had been named in Magnitsky’s allegations.

Magnitsky spent almost a year (358 days) in pre-trial detention until his death in 2009 (see below for more background). During this time, he sent numerous letters to the authorities complaining about the criminal prosecution and his unlawful detention, and of threats and pressure to force him to withdraw his allegations and to incriminate himself and his client in the crimes he had himself alleged. He complained of repeated unlawful placement in solitary confinement, of ill-treatment and inhuman conditions in detention, and of worsening health and a denial of medical care.

Criminal proceedings against Magnitsky were closed 13 days after his death, as legally required at the time. However, they were reopened after a 2011 Constitutional Court ruling that in cases where the suspect or defendant dies before the relevant criminal proceedings are completed, the family has the right to insist the investigation is completed and the person concerned rehabilitated. The ruling emphasised the deceased person’s relatives’ right to insist on the completion of the relevant criminal proceedings.

However, the Russian criminal prosecution and investigation authorities have used this decision as a pretext to reopen criminal proceedings against Magnitsky himself.  Amnesty is pointing out that Magnitsky’s family have always insisted on his innocence, and have been asking for those responsible for his unlawful persecution and death to be brought to justice. They have never requested that the criminal case against him be reopened, as he was never convicted and the charges were patently fraudulent.
Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director John Dalhuisen said:

“This posthumous prosecution is farcical, but unfortunately also deeply sinister.

“The Russian authorities’ intention to proceed with the criminal prosecution of Sergei Magnitsky violates his fundamental rights even in death, in particular the right to defend himself in person.

“The trial of a deceased person and the forcible involvement of his relatives is a dangerous precedent that would open a whole new chapter in Russia’s worsening human rights record.

“The legal grounds for the posthumous criminal prosecution against Sergei Magnitsky to say the least are dubious, and the authorities must halt this travesty.”

Magnitsky’s death:
Sergei Magnitsky’s last days tell a story of agony and despair. When he was diagnosed with an acute condition and scheduled for a surgical operation at one detention facility he was instead transferred to another - “Butyrka” - shortly before the procedure could take place. On 12 November 2009 he complained of severe pains, but it was not until 16 November that his acute medical condition, so far neglected by the administration at Butyrka, was recognised. He was urgently transferred for treatment to the previous detention facility in its prison hospital. Upon arrival, he was allegedly placed in a solitary cell, handcuffed and beaten with rubber batons by penitentiary officials. Magnitsky died the same day.

The aftermath:
After months of pressure and lobbying of the Russian authorities by human rights activists and the international community, a criminal case was opened into the circumstances of Magnitsky’s death and two medics from Butyrka were charged with negligence. The case against one of them was later closed because of the expiration of the statute of limitations, while the other defendant was found not guilty last December.

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