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.
(Page 2 of 2)
"We insist that several members of the [official] Investigation Committee be made to answer for their conduct, as well as certain judges who abetted his illegal arrest, prolonged his detention and denied his relatives permission to visit him in prison ... .Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"It is clear that the system swept down on Magnitsky and destroyed him," he adds. "The lesson here is that a person is defenseless against the system."
Signs of reform
Some members of the commission say that the fact that Medvedev has defied the official investigation and admitted that "criminal actions" played a role in Magnitsky's death means that the system can be reformed.
"I think Magnitsky's case is proof that our society, supported by the president, can force the system to be accountable," says Kiril Kabanov, head of the official National Anti-Corruption Committee. "Right now we have a lot of other cases similar to Magnitsky's, which means that what happened to him is not that unusual."
He says there is a lot of institutional resistance to revealing and punishing abuses, and dealing with it will require a big push from the Kremlin.
"Officials tend to cover up and protect their workers [who commit abuse], and seem ready to accuse anybody else – even international conspiracies – for the allegations against them, rather than own up to the real state of affairs," he says.
Another commission member, former judge Mara Polyakova, says reform will not be easy.
"This case spotlights all the defects of our law enforcement organs and courts which we've long known about," she says. "The fact that the Magnitsky case has attracted such resonance is good, but don't imagine all the vice we're dealing with can be eliminated at a single stroke. The system itself is vile, and change will be a long, hard struggle."
Last month Russia's top prosecutor, Yury Chaika, slammed the US Senate for introducing a bill, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, which would deny US visas and freeze the US-based assets of Russian officials accused of committing illegal reprisals against human rights activists. This week, the Dutch parliament unanimously passed a similar resolution.
"Investigative bodies and the Russian justice system are coming under pressure. I believe that this is unacceptable," Mr. Chaika said.
"What makes this case truly unique is the very diverse effort to compel the Russian government to investigate thoroughly, and not to let the perpetrators get away with it. The president was forced to say something he never would have said in public otherwise," she says.
"Medvedev's words suggest an effort by nervous Russian officials to try to soften their position, reconcile with the US, Holland, and other foreign countries. It's a struggle, but the threat of sanctions against Russian officials, who like to stash their assets abroad and travel to foreign countries, is something that appears to be working," she says.
"Now we must wait to see what happens next. Is this as far as Medvedev is prepared to go? People are waiting for more than words, they want to see something definitive, proceedings opened, charges laid against the perpetrators. That would be something," she adds.
RECOMMENDED: The five most dangerous countries for journalists