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Political Trial Against a Dead Man

MOSCOW/LONDON – In what might well be the most macabre act in the already appalling human rights record of the current Russian government, the deceased lawyer Sergei Magnitsky is about to be put on trial  in Moscow this Friday, although he was tortured to death in a Russian jail over three years ago.
In 2008, when Sergei Magnitsky was defending his client Hermitage Capital Management on a case of alleged tax evasion, he discovered a huge tax fraud of $230 million conducted by Russian authorities, tax officials, police and elements of organized crime. While investigating this massive theft of public money, he was arrested for allegedly colluding with Hermitage and jailed to wait for trial. This trial never came — Magnitsky died in his cell 8 days before the one-year-limit of custody without trial expired, having been denied medical care that he desperately needed after repeated beatings and torture, as was confirmed by a later independent inquiry.

Sergei Magnitsky is the first person to be tried posthumously in Russia after the laws were changed in 2011 to allow that. Magnitsky's widow, Natalia Zharikova, has condemned the proceedings as "blasphemy" and urged those involved to refuse to take part.

Until this day, all those responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky have been cleared, and on March 19th the Russian officials announced that they are ending the investigation without finding any signs of crime. Yet on a global level, Bill Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, has been successfully campaigning to end the impunity through the so-called "Sergei Magnitsky Act" which seeks to impose international visa restrictions and asset freezes on Russian government officials that are thought to be involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky. In the US, this act was passed into law by President Obama on December 14th, 2012. Russia retaliated by banning US citizens from adopting Russian orphans as well as placing restrictions on NGOs if they have "foreign agents" supporting them. Russian officials are reportedly currently doing wide-ranging checks of NGOs with foreign support in order to limit Western influence and silence dissidents.

Bill Browder, a recipient of the Cinema for Peace Award for Justice 2012 as well as presenter of the International Human Rights Film Award at Cinema for Peace Berlin 2013,  now also campaigns to pass the act in the EU and elsewhere in the world. All this campaigning against Russian officials is a very dangerous task considering the harsh Russian tactics: Browder's life has been threatened and one of the key witnesses in the tax fraud case died suspiciously in London a few months ago after giving information to Browder, reminiscent of the 2006 poisoning of the former KGB agent and Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko.

The "Sergei Magnitsky Act" is an important step towards holding the Russian authorities responsible for their increasingly inhumane tactics in quelling dissent and silencing whistleblowers who have tried to expose the extent of corruption embedded in Russian society. For more information on Sergei Magnitsky please visit the site Russian Untouchables ( put up by his friends and supporters.

Bill Browder's initiative to change laws across the world for human rights violators can potentially alter the face of justice in many countries. Artists have conducted a theater play about the last hours of Sergei Magnitsky's life, are currently developing a Hollywood movie on the topic and suggest Bill Browder being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
We invite you to watch the following films on the topic of Sergei Magnitsky:

  • JUSTICE FOR SERGEI by Hans Hermans and Martin Maat, winner of the "Cinema for Peace Award for Justice 2012", is a documentary film on Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in November 2009 at the age of 37 under excruciating circumstances in a Moscow detention centre.
  • LETTER TO ANNA by Eric Bergkraut tells the story of the well-known Ukrainian journalist Anna Politkovskaya's life and death.
  • KHODORKOVSKY by Cyril Tuschi is a documentary about the jailed Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky who challenges President Putin.
  • LITVINENKO by Andrei Nekrasov unravels the dark secret of the Kremlin in this story of the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in London in 2006.


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