This month marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died from apparent medical neglect after 12 months in pre-trial detention.
In 2008, Mr. Magnitsky implicated Russian officials in what he called a massive scheme to defraud the government of $230 million. Authorities arrested Mr. Magnitsky and accused him and his client, Hermitage Capital, of evading taxes. According to Mr. Magnitsky, investigators and prison officials pressured him to withdraw his complaint and testify against Hermitage Capital. He refused to cooperate and was subsequently transferred from one Moscow prison to another with worse conditions. After being denied medical attention for pancreatic problems and enduring what human rights activists have described as torturous conditions for almost a year, Sergei Magnitsky died November 16th, 2009.
In one of his last letters from prison, Mr. Magnitsky wrote, "Justice under these circumstances turns into a process of grinding human flesh into mincemeat for prisons and camps, a process in which people can neither effectively defend themselves or even realize what is happening to them. One can only think about when it will end, when one can get rid of this physical and emotional torture."
In response to the international outcry that followed Mr. Magnitsky's death, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a probe, fired 20 prison officials, and pledged to reform the prison system. U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, the U.S. welcomes "President Medvedev's statements of support of judicial reform, but note[s] with regret that no one has been charged in connection with this case, despite a Justice Ministry investigation."
Unfortunately, Russia's Interior Ministry recently leveled new fraud allegations against Mr. Magnitsky and granted special honors to individuals implicated in his death.
U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin, chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, said "I think the Russian authorities understand that we're going to continue to raise this issue until there is a full investigation and those who are responsible are held accountable." Senator Cardin said, "Russia has certain responsibilities. They're a [signatory] to the Helsinki Accords and their actions are out of compliance."
The United States, said Spokesman Crowley, "continues to call for the Russian authorities to prosecute all responsible for Mr. Magnitsky's death and protect the fundamental rights of all, including those in prison."