Russia was heavily condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday (August 27th) in the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a jurist who died in prison after denouncing a corruption scandal and then posthumously judged - a case that triggered a diplomatic storm between Moscow and Washington.
Ill-treatment, lack of adequate medical care, incomplete investigation into the circumstances of the death, excessive pre-trial detention, "inherently inadequate" posthumous conviction ... the ECHR criticizes the Russian authorities for numerous violations of fundamental rights in this case.
The Strasbourg judges found that Mr Magnitsky had been subjected to ill-treatment a few hours before his death and that the decision taken in March 2013 by the Russian authorities to discontinue the investigation into his death was "superficial" .
In July 2013, Sergei Magnitsky was posthumously convicted of tax evasion in a trial boycotted by his family. On this point, the Court emphasizes that "the trial of a dead person clearly fails to respect the principles [of the right to a fair trial] " . The ECHR was seized by Sergei Magnitsky himself and then, after his death, by his wife and mother.Article reserved for our subscribers Read also The Magnitsky affair in Russia: cold-war hints
Strokes and deprivation of care
The lawyer worked for the tax department of a Moscow law firm that had among its clients the largest foreign investment fund in Russia, Hermitage Capital, led by an American.
In 2008, Mr Magnitsky was arrested after denouncing a financial machination of 5.4 billion rubles (130 million euros), according to him, by police and tax officials to the detriment of the Russian state and Hermitage Capital.
He died in pretrial detention at the age of 37, in November 2009, according to the Russian prison service, succumbed to malaise, but an investigation by the Human Rights Consultative Council to the Kremlin concluded in 2011 he had been beaten and denied treatment. However, no criminal proceedings were initiated following this investigation.
The Court sentenced Russia to pay Mr Magnitski's wife and mother EUR 34,000 for non-pecuniary damage, a large sum compared to what is usually awarded by that court. While the two women also accused the Russian authorities of arbitrary detention, the ECHR did not follow them on this point, but condemned Russia for excessive retention in pre-trial detention.
"The European Court found manifestly unfounded the complaint of arbitrary detention of Mr Magnitsky, acknowledging that his arrest and detention were in full compliance with the Convention," the Russian Ministry of Justice said in a statement quoted by by Russian news agencies.
A "climate of widespread impunity"
For Hugues de Suremain, legal coordinator of the European Network of Penal Litigation, an association for the defense of the rights of detainees, this is an "overwhelming condemnation for the Russian authorities" , which demonstrates "a climate of widespread impunity" . "This case shows how much the reform attempt that was [Dmitri] Medvedev [then President of Russia] launched in the late 2000s to break the legacy of the Gulag failed" , leaving room for vis-à-vis, "he says.
He underlines that the Magnitsky decision comes to put pressure on the Russian authorities again when the fate of a national mechanism for the prevention of torture in prisons, set up in 2008, and emptied of its substance by the ousting of all human rights defenders who participated.
Tentacular, the Magnitsky case led to the adoption of "Magnitsky laws" that restrict freedom of movement and freeze the assets of those accused of violating human rights in the United States, but also in Great Britain, Canada and in the three Baltic republics.
Russia had responded with the adoption of a law drawing up a list of Americans and other undesirable foreigners on its territory, also banning the adoption of Russian children by Americans.
Member since 1996 of the Council of Europe, Russia has fully executed only 38% of the judgments of the ECHR pronounced against him, according to figures released last spring by a forum of Russian human rights NGO.Article reserved for our subscribers Read also The Magnitsky affair bounces in France