Ghost in the machine

US moves forward on Magnitsky case, with Canada next. When will the UK act?

Friday 16 November marked a milestone for human rights, with the US House of Representatives voting overwhelmingly to pass the Magnitsky Act, the clearest sign yet that the US government is finally bowing to pressure to name and shame those implicated in the death in custody of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

All the more timely as it took place on the third anniversary of Magnitsky’s death, the vote provoked a vociferous reaction in Russia that Magnitsky’s former client Bill Browder termed “apoplectic”. Russia’s interior ministry duly followed swiftly by announcing that there is “no data whatsoever” to implicate the Russian officials investigated for embezzling $230m (£146m) – the scandal Magnitsky unravelled shortly before his arrest.

It is probably no coincidence that these events coincided with the London premiere of One Hour And Eighteen Minutes, a play that uses real-life testimony from Magnitsky, his colleagues and relatives, prison staff and the judge who denied his appeals for release and prolonged his detention, to expose the truth about the run-up to his death.

While art rarely succeeds in imitating life, here Elena Gremina’s play, translated by Noah Birksteed-Breen, reflects the dark spectre of corruption Russia is trying so hard to shake off.

The Magnitsky Act will come before the US Senate next month and Browder also plans to take his campaign to Canada’s parliament. The question now is – how long before the UK joins the fight?