Russian lawyer wins rights battle 10 years after his death

Russian lawyer wins rights battle 10 years after his death

The European Court of Human Rights has condemned “multiple” Russian violations against Sergei Magnitsky (pictured), an anti-fraud lawyer who died in custody in 2009 while awaiting trial. 

His name is associated with a raft of US financial measures against Russia, enacted in response to his death. 

The rights court has taken more than a decade to reach a verdict. 

The court determined the 37-year-old had been mistreated, was held in over-crowded conditions and denied medical care following his arrest for supposed tax evasion. His death in November 2009 came after repeated pleas for medical help.

The cause of death was given as toxic shock and heart failure from pancreatitis. His condition had been diagnosed by a prison doctor but was left untreated. Prison staff also beat the lawyer with a rubber truncheon, causing several injuries.

The court said the Russian investigation into his death had been lacking and ordered the government to pay €34,000 to Magnitsky’s widow, Natalya, and mother who took his case to the Strasbourg court.

Russia can appeal against the ruling. 

The court rejected a claim that his arrest was ill-founded and said investigators had reasonable grounds to suspect Magnitsky of being involved in tax evasion.

That did not justify keeping him in custody for more than a year, the court ruled. The rights court also said it had been “inherently unfair” to continue proceedings after he died.

The posthumous trial of Magnitsky in July 2013 found him guilty of tax evasion.

His death drew international attention to the persecution of whistle-blowers and critics, prompting the United States and other countries to pass “Magnitsky” legislation targeting Russians accused of rights abuses. 

The death of Magnitsky soured relations with Washington, as the new Obama administration was trying to reset the relationship. 

The US Magnitsky Act in 2012 imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Russian figures linked to the lawyer’s death. 

Moscow responded by outlawing the adoption of Russian infants by US couples.

Magnitsky went public with details of an alleged US$230-million fraud by Russian government figures before he was arrested in November 2008.

James Goldston, who presented the case to the court, said Magnitsky and his family had finally been given “some measure of justice” from the legal system in which he had placed his faith.



Sergei Magnitsky. Picture credit: Wikimedia 

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