Mother of dead Russian lawyer Magnitsky makes plea to ECHR

The mother of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in November 2009 while being detained in a Moscow prison cell, has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to declare that Russia has violated the European Convention of Human Rights in relation to Magnitsky’s death.

The claim, which was filed on Wednesday 17 October on behalf of Natalya Magnitskaya by the Open Society Justice Initiative, claims that Russian law enforcement agencies perverted the criminal justice system to silence Magnitsky after he stumbled upon what he believed was a cover-up by Russian state officials to embezzle an estimated $230m (£144m) from the Russian treasury.

Magnitsky, a lawyer at Firestone Duncan in Moscow, was initially detained in November 2008 on suspicion of assisting his client, UK-based investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, to allegedly evade around $17.4m (£11m) in taxes. The lawsuit alleges that Magnitsky was denied medical treatment and was beaten by prison guards just prior to his death.

The claim asks the Strasbourg court to find Russia guilty of violating six articles of the European Convention of Human Rights, which includes articles relating to torture, unlawful detention, retaliation against whistleblowers and the denial of right to life.

“It’s a hugely significant case as it is emblematic of unfortunately how much human rights violations pervade the justice system in Russia and the dangers of those who try to expose these violations and the abominable pre-trial conditions that they’re subjected to,” James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative and the lead public interest lawyer working on the case, told The Lawyer.

“The Russian government has been running around the world desperately trying to cover up the truth about what they did to Sergei Magnitsky,” added Hermitage Capital founder Bill Browder. “This is the first time that a proper court outside of Russia will examine the evidence and come to objective conclusions about who bears responsibility for his false arrest, torture and murder.”

Although it is not yet known when the trial will take place, Browder is hopeful that it will be heard relatively soon. “We’re hoping that the claim will be heard in a relatively short period of time and that a strong verdict will bring a modest degree of justice for Sergei’s family,” he said.

“I’m very confident that the facts will overwhelmingly show that there has been a miscarriage of justice,” added Goldston.

Goldston said that if the ECHR upholds Magnitskaya’s claim the judge in the ECHR could request the Russian government to launch a full investigation of those implicated in Magnitsky’s alleged torture and death and that the investigation would be overseen by the ECHR.

The news comes as it has also been revealed that the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee has urged the UK Government to publish a blacklist of names of Russian officials that have been banned from entering the UK due to their alleged involvement in Magnitsky’s death.

The report, which was published on Wednesday, notes that although “the Government does not routinely publish the identity of individuals denied a visa to enter the UK and it has resisted calls to make public any denial of visas to enter the UK for those who held responsibility in the chain of events which led to the death of Mr Sergei Magnitsky in pre-trial detention in Russia in 2009,” confirms that “when used sparingly, publicising the names of those denied entry on human rights grounds could be a valuable tool in drawing attention to the UK’s determination to uphold high standards of human rights, and we recommend that the Government make use of it”.

The report is an important milestone in the Magnitsky visa sanction saga, after last month the Foreign & Commonwealth Office denied claims that it had introduced a blacklist naming 60 Russian officials believed to be involved in Magnitsky’s death (4 September 2011).

Browder, who together with his team has compiled a dossier of thousands of pages citing evidence of the 60 officials suspected of collusion in Magnitsky’s arrest, torture and subsequent death, said that the report is a crucial step in securing justice for Magnitsky’s family.

“It ‘s crucial to name and shame officials who commit human rights atrocities,” he added. “It’s a hundred times more powerful if visa sanctions and asset freezes are made public in the glaring light of day than quietly and secretly. We hope that by naming and shaming the people who killed Sergei Magnitsky, it will create a strong disincentive for others to commit similar human rights abuses in the future.”