Russia's Medvedev sides with human rights activists on Sergei Magnitsky killing
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev surprised many when he backed a report blaming the 2009 fatality of anticorruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky on prison brutality.
It's almost unheard of for a Russian leader to side with human rights activists against his top officials.Skip to next paragraph
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But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appeared to do that Tuesday after being handed a scathing report, prepared by the Kremlin's own human rights commission, that described the 2009 prison death of anticorruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky as the work of prison guards who savagely beat him and doctors who refused to treat him. The report also blamed top officials for covering up the whole affair.
"The case of Magnitsky is a very sad case, for this man is dead, and in all likelihood, there were certain criminal actions that led to this result," Mr. Medvedev said after meeting with the commission, an advisory body that includes some of Russia's top human rights campaigners.
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While the Kremlin commission's advice is often ignored, experts say things might be different this time. The report given to Medvedev, which clashes sharply with the findings of an official investigation, not only describes the appalling conditions Mr. Magnitsky was subjected to but also names several prison officials and medical authorities who allegedly colluded in the abuse.
"Our report is no abstract document," says Valery Borshchev, a former Duma deputy and coauthor of the report. "We name the people actually responsible for what happened to Magnitsky and cite the evidence that permits us to accuse them of corruption and other legal violations. We name the doctors who withheld medical assistance from him. We don't name any top officials because their involvement has yet to be proven."
Unlawful arrest, brutal detention
Magnitsky, a lawyer with the British-based Hermitage Capital, had filed a 2008 lawsuit alleging a $230 million tax fraud by a number of top Russian law enforcement officials. Within weeks, he was arrested by some of those same officials, charged with fraud, and taken to Matrosskaya Tishina, a notorious Moscow pretrial detention center.
A year later, Magnitsky died of heart failure in prison after apparently being denied medical treatment. The case, which seemed to exemplify the worst of Russia's corruption-ridden justice system and violence-plagued prisons, attracted widespread attention. At the time, Medvedev promised a full investigation.
But the official inquiry presented Monday found no fault with prison officials and merely blamed unnamed doctors for not acting efficiently in his case.
"The experts identified deficiencies in the medical care given to Magnitsky during his detention, which may have prevented a timely diagnosis of his chronic illness," a spokesman for the official Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin, told journalists. "In this regard, he was not provided with timely and appropriate treatment."
But the report given to Medvedev the next day by the Kremlin human rights panel provided evidence that Magnitsky's original arrest was unlawful, that his detention was marked by beatings and possibly torture aimed at extracting a confession of guilt, and that prison officials instructed doctors not to treat him.
"It is clear that Magnitsky, who was in a critical state of health, was beaten in prison," says Mr. Borshchev.
On the night he died "he was delivered to Matrosskaya Tishina in serious condition. But the doctor on duty, instead of treating him, allowed eight guards to take him into a small cell in handcuffs. The doctor also called an ambulance, but it was not allowed to enter the prison gates for over an hour. When [medical personnel] were able to enter, Magnitsky was already dead. It is a recorded fact that he had been beaten by truncheons," he says.
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