Cold war-style blacklists? Wide ripples from Russian lawyer's death in prison.
Two Russian generals have reportedly called off a US visit after senators asked for a review of their visa requests. A proposed Senate bill would restrict visas for 60 Russians allegedly linked to the case of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
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Browder believes the scheme to defraud the state treasury of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars must have involved a wide range of conspirators, including tax officials and high-level government figures.Skip to next paragraph
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Magnitsky appeared twice before the State Investigative Committee in 2008, where he described in detail how the theft had been carried out and named several police officials. The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, subsequently assigned those same officers to investigate Magnitsky's claims and, in November 2008, they arrested him and charged him, ironically, with tax evasion.
A year later, Magnitsky was dead. According to a report issued last summer by a commission of human rights experts working under President Dmitry Medvedev, he had been systematically deprived of medical treatment, kept in appalling conditions, and denied access to his family.
Brutal quest for confession of guilt
On the night he died, prison officials kept an ambulance waiting for an hour while eight guards took Magnitsky into a holding cell in handcuffs as prison doctors stood by, says Valery Borshchev, a member of the Kremlin human rights council.
"It has been established that he was beaten, even though he was in a critical state of health, in an effort to make him sign a confession of guilt," says Mr. Borshchev. "I don't think they meant to kill him, but taken all together, it led to his death."
The Interior Ministry has rejected the findings of the Kremlin human rights council, even though Mr. Medvedev appeared to endorse them last July, saying "[Magnitsky] is gone, and to all appearance, indeed some crimes were committed leading at least to this result."
The State Investigative Committee has extended its inquiry eight times, and is slated to report on Nov. 24.
"I have little hope that we will ever see this case investigated properly," says Borshchev. "Nobody [at the top] wants the real reasons it happened to be revealed."
Last month two doctors were indicted on charges of negligence, and they may go to trial. But Browder says the doctors are small fish. "These doctors are clearly guilty of the more serious crime of torture by deliberately withholding medical care from a gravely ill man, but that is not being addressed in the case against them," he says.
Out of 60 people, including high officials, who have been identified as involved, "58 have been fully exonerated," Browder says. "Only these two lowest-level people ... are being charged. They are clearly scapegoats."
Many Russian human rights veterans say that, despite the risk of worsening East-West relations, pressuring the government through international sanctions may be the only way to bring about justice in such cases.
"There are lots of miscarriages of justice in the Russian system, and no one ever answers for them, but Magnitsky was the employee of a prestigious foreign firm and many people worked to bring his story into the light," says Oleg Orlov, chairman of Memorial, Russia's largest human rights organization. "So, this kind of pressure, even if it gets denounced as 'interference into Russia's internal affairs,' is actually good for Russian citizens," he adds. "The case has become a lever that gives rise to real hopes that the system can be changed."
Browder echoes that sentiment in laying out the objectives of his campaign. The first is specific justice for Magnitsky, whose death hit Browder "like a knife through my heart."
The second, more important goal: "making sure that Sergei's death wasn't a meaningless death, but something that has changed Russia for the better."