Russian NGO Names Officials Responsible for the Death of Anti-Corruption Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky

December 28, 2009

28 December 2009 – Today the Moscow Public Oversight Commission, a Russian NGO that is mandated by law to monitor human rights in Moscow detention facilities, has released a detailed report about the gruesome circumstances that lead to the death of 37-year old anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow pre-trial detention facility where he was kept without trial for 12 months.

The 20-page report concludes that investigators from the Russian Interior Ministry, and the administration and medical staff at Butyrka prison, were responsible for the creation of “torturous” detention conditions for Sergei Magnitsky. The report concludes that Sergei Magnitsky was deliberately subjected to physical and psychological pressure and denied urgent medical care in order to coerce him to commit perjury and give false testimony. The report highlights the responsibility of judge Stashina of the Tverskoi district court of Moscow who, four days prior to Sergei Magnitsky’s death, refused to accept documents evidencing his dire medical condition and instead prolonged his detention. Finally, the report draws the conclusion that the Russian Prosecutor Office failed to intervene to address the serious legal breaches of the detention conditions of Sergei Magnitsky, despite a detailed complaint addressed to General Prosecutor, Yuri Chaika.

With regards to the role of Investigators from the Russian Interior Ministry, the Public Oversight Commission states:

“During the course of our investigation of the conditions of Magnitsky in Butyrka detention facility, we have come to the conclusion that the circumstances that have lead to the death of detainee S.L.Magnitsky cannot be viewed separately from the course of the investigation of the criminal case. He believed that the conditions created for him in Butyrka prison are evidence of the pressure on him to suppress his will by torturous detention conditions and force testimonies admitting guilt…Of particular concern are two facts. First, on 16 October 2009, Magnitsky made a statement about the large-scale fraud involving theft of state budget money by high-ranking officials of the Russian Interior Ministry. He gave a detailed description of the fraudulent scheme and named names. Second, on 24 November, the one year in pre-trial detention was due to expire. The investigators did not have sufficient evidence to prove his guilt.”

The report further refers to the outright refusal by senior investigator Silchenko of the Interior Ministry’s Investigative Committee, of the petition from Mr Magnitsky’s lawyers for his ultrasound examination and calls the refusal of medical care “cynical” and “showing the failure of investigator Silchenko to comply with Article 11 of the Russian Criminal Procedural Code” that requires of the investigator to explain an accused person their rights and ensure the possibility to exercise those rights. The Public Oversight Commission states that the actions by investigator Silchenko “evidence either his negligence or a deliberate intent to conceal the motivation of his refusal to provide a medical examination.”

The refusal by Investigator Silchenko to carry out a medical examination of Sergei Magnitsky clearly demonstrates that the public statement last week by Mr Anichin, head of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Investigative Committee, that the Interior Ministry never received any complaints about Sergei Magnitsky’s health problems, was patently untrue.

The report also cites the refusal by investigator Silchenko of the Interior Ministry to allow Sergei Magnitsky to see his family for 11 months in detention.

With regards to the unlawful pressure exerted on Magnitsky in detention, the Public Oversight Commission reports: “Based on conditions of Magnitsky at Butyrka detention facility, members of the Public Oversight Commission have come to the conclusion that in fact psychological and physical pressure was exerted upon him.”

The report cites evidence of physical and psychological pressure with the involvement of investigator Silchenko of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Investigative Committee. This includes unjustified transfer of Sergei Magnitsky, ordered by Silchenko, to a temporary detention facility with extreme conditions in February 2009. It also includes the transfer on 25 July 2009 from Matrosskaya Tishina detention facility to Butyrka prison. The grounds for the transfer remain unexplained, given that on 1 July 2009 Sergei was diagnosed with pancreatitis and ordered to have a repeat ultrasound examination and a possible operation by 1 August 2009. Yet a week prior to a planned examination and surgery, Sergei was transferred to Butyrka, which did not even have an ultrasound machine and where the medical examination and the operation could not have taken place. The report indicates that according to prison officials, the transfer from Matrosskaya Tishina to Butyrka was based on the need to carry out repairs on the entire floor where Sergei was kept. However, according to the same prison officials, only five detainees were transferred and the repairs have never begun.

The report calls “unprecedented” the fact that Sergei Magnitsky had been transferred between three detention centers (in addition to two temporary detention centers) and numerous cells while he was awaiting trial for 12 months.

The report describes the systematic denial of medical care to Sergei Magnitsky by officials and medical staff at Butyrka prison and concludes that “the actions of medical staff at detention center was not just negligence, it was not just ‘non-provision of medical care’. These actions raise the question of the violation of his right to life.”

The Public Oversight Commission questions the official explanation of the cause of death being heart failure stating: “The inflamed stomach and an echocardiogram heart examination conducted shortly prior [to his death] do not support this version”.

The report describes shocking details of the non-provision of urgent medical care to Sergei Magnitsky during the several days and hours preceeding his death. The Commission did not receive an adequate answer why, given that Sergei Magnitsky began to complain about grave stomach pains and vomiting on 13 November, for three days he was seen only by a nurse and not a doctor. The Commission notes that it became known to prison and medical staff at Butyrka that Sergei required urgent medical attention for the acute pancreatitis on the morning of 16 November, only in the evening he was transferred to Matrossskay Tishina, which has a medical care unit, and where nevertheless he did not receive any medical care at all.

The Public Oversight Commission specifically questions the behavior of surgeon Gauss of Matrosskaya Tishina who left Magnitsky alone in an isolation ward without medical care in spite of the need for urgent medical care and as a result, “an ill person in severe condition was effectively left without medical attention (for 1 hour 18 minutes) to die in an isolation ward.”

The report indicates that shortly after the arrival to Matrosskay Tishina, Sergei Magnitsky stated to the staff of detention centre that someone was trying to murder him. On that basis, the staff decided that he was having a “psychotic episode” and never tried to ascertain what were the grounds for Sergei’s statement, which could have been accurate portrayal of reality. According to the Commission: “As for his psychosis – based on him [Sergei] saying that someone wants to murder him…- it could have been an appropriate response to what was happening to him.”

The Public Oversight Commission cites the suspicious refusal by head of Butyrka prison Komnov to name the guard who escorted Sergei Magnitsky several hours prior to his death in an ambulance car from Butyrka to Matrosskaya Tishina. Mr Komnov justified his refusal saying: “I don’t want him [the guard] to be killed.” The Commission did not find this explanation satisfactory.
The Public Oversight Commission points out glaring contradictions in the testimonies of various officials and medical personnel, as well as the unavailability of certain key medical staff for interviews at both Butyrka and Matrosskaya Tishina detention centers, and the apparent fear to speak openly of detainees who witnessed Sergei’s situation. The report indicates:

“Many statements [by prison officials and medical staff] hardly match. The emergency ambulance doctor appears to be ‘missing’, the stories by [Dr] Gauss and [nurse] Sasha [at Matrosskaya Tishina] about the timing of injection before or after he [Sergei] allegedly developed symptoms of psychosis contradict each other. Statements by various people are conflicting about every detail of the timing of events, his [Sergei’s] behavior during the psychotic episode, and everything what happened to him after placing him in isolation ward.”

The Public Oversight Commission points out that such conflicting and contradicting reports are particularly strange given that all those officials had been already questioned by the official investigators. It concludes that the medical staff of detention centers is concealing the truth: “Reports by doctors contradict each other. It is obvious that they are deliberately concealing the truth.”

In the concluding remarks of the report, the Public Oversight Commission calls for a probe into “the role of the investigators in creating conditions and subjecting S.L. Magnitsky to them in detention, and the degree of their responsibility.”

Referring to the role of judges, the Public Oversight Commission cites the rejection by judge Stashina of Tverskoi district court to accept documents about Sergei Magnitsky’s medical condition, and her refusal to release him from pre-trial detention, saying that if not for this, “he could have stayed alive,” and “we believe that the Supreme Court and the legal community must review the current situation not only with judge Stashina, but also in general with seriously ill detainees.”

With regard to the role of the prosecutor office, the report also states that “the prosecutor office who are responsible for overseeing adherence of conditions in detention to law, did not perform their functions.”

The Public Oversight Commission is a body formed under the Russian Law “On Public Control of Human Rights in Detention and Assistance to Persons in Detention” from 10 June 2008.

Valery Borschev, the chairman of the Moscow City Public Oversight Commission, is a well-known human rights defender, former member of the Russian parliament, and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, the oldest Russian human rights organization active in Russia today. He was one of the authors of the law on the public oversight of detention centers introduced in the lower chamber of the parliament in late 1990’s but blocked by the parliament’s upper chamber.

The report was signed by Mr Borshev, and the following other members of the Moscow City Public Oversight Commission: Ms Volkova, Ms Flerova, Ms Alpern, Ms Dubikova, and Ms Svetova.

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