The mother and widow of whistle-blowing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky were in Washington on April 17, just days after the White House issued a blacklist of more than a dozen Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky's prosecution and death in jail in 2009.
RFE/RL's Richard Solash spoke to Magnitsky's mother, Natalia, at a reception held in the family's honor, and started by asking her how she felt now that the "Magnitsky list" had become a reality.
You know, this list is kind of a monument to Sergei. Although such a monument should probably be in our own country. Unfortunately, we can't have it in our country yet, and I am, of course, very grateful to all those who have been involved in this, who have taken an interest in Sergei. The fact that the whole world, perhaps unexpectedly, has become concerned about it and that there exists such a list now is, as I said, a memorial to Sergei.
RFE/RL: Were you hoping that the list would target more officials or higher-ranking officials?
To be honest, I wasn't following very much who would be included on the list. I didn't think much about it. I think the authors of this list have expressed their opinion and I understand that it doesn't include any high-ranking officials because that would have caused tension between our countries. In fact, I wouldn't want our countries, or any countries, to have any tension in their relations.
RFE/RL: Do you think that the list can be effective in stimulating reform in Russia?
Well, one can only hope. I don't know if it can stimulate reform, but many people are afraid to get on this list, so maybe something will change in their mind and they will stop doing horrible things and breaking the law, in fear of getting on this list, so I hope that there will be something positive about it.
I also want to say that I don't think that this list is aimed at Russia. It is aimed at concrete individuals. It doesn't say that Russia is bad. I am not saying that Russia is bad either. The list is about people who must answer for their actions.
RFE/RL: How would you characterize Russia's response -- its ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children and its blacklist of U.S. officials?
It pains me to know that these measures are linked to Sergei's name. It's not clear why they had to do it now. I could understand Russia making a list in response to a U.S. list. Any government, in my opinion, has the right not to allow people whom it doesn't like to enter its country. As individuals we can also be friendly with some people but not friendly with others and we don't want to let them in our house. It is our right. Am I right?
But I think the Dima Yakovlev law [the adoption ban] has nothing to do with Sergei's case and I don't understand this law at all. It's like nobody cared about orphans before but all of a sudden they began to care. Well, maybe they will actually begin to care more about orphans now and recall that there are orphans in Russia -- as long as it doesn't just end with nice words about the orphans.
I feel sorry for those children and those people who wanted to adopt them. In any case, it is better for a child to live in a family. I understand that in any country there may be cases where adoptive parents treat children cruelly. But even birth parents are sometimes very cruel to their children. That doesn't mean there's a need to ban something. Cars kill people too, so maybe they should ban cars now.
RFE/RL: Have you or your family been threatened or felt unsafe in Russia as the push for the "Magnitsky list" continued in the West?
You know, I can't say that anybody has threatened me directly or told me not to give interviews or to make any particular statements. That hasn't happened. But they resumed the tax-evasion case against Sergei, putting a dead man on trial, which is absolutely incomprehensible because there is no specific law about it, so we refused to attend those hearings.
It was very unpleasant when they started sending me summons. At one point I received five different summons, three telegrams, and two letters, to show up for one hearing. They said I had to come in to familiarize myself with the case and if I failed to show up, I would be brought to court forcibly or be fined. That was very unpleasant and hard to understand. I thought maybe I would really be arrested.
Then I received a document listing my rights. Those were the rights that were usually read to an accused person and they sent that to me. One of the points, which I also found amusing, was that I had the right to communicate with my lawyer in private. Am I a suspect or an accused person? You see, they granted me the right to talk to a lawyer in private. So, they assigned the status of an accused person to me. Of course, it is very unpleasant, but I repeat that no one has threatened me directly.
Natalia Magnitskaya says her son "was a law-abiding person. He was something of an idealist and he believed that people in power had to abide by the law."
RFE/RL: How do you think your son, Sergei, would feel about the list and about Russia's response?
This is a more difficult question because he wouldn't be able to react in relation to himself. But if this was about someone else, he would have reacted -- it is very difficult for me to answer this question. I don't think I can answer it.
I simply want to say that Sergei was a law-abiding person. He was something of an idealist and he believed that people in power had to abide by the law. You know, he wrote a lot of complaints in jail, but never demanded anything outside the law. He only demanded what he had the right to have, according to the law.
RFE/RL: What do Sergei's children think about all of this? How has it affected them?
You see, we're trying not to talk much about this subject with the kids because it is painful for them, especially for his youngest son, because he's asking questions, he wants to know what happened to his father. I can't tell him everything because it is very hard. He understands, he says: "My dad is a hero. I know that my dad is a hero." I have told him that I will tell him more when he grows up. I'm collecting magazines, newspapers, and Internet materials so he can make his own judgment when he grows up.
RFE/RL: How many other Sergei Magnitskys do you think there are in Russia?
A lot, I think. We had never had any contact or conflicts with law enforcement before. Of course, we read something but never went too deep into it. But when it begins to concern you, then you start paying more attention and you understand that Sergei's case is not the only one. This case has simply become widely known thanks to [Magnitsky's former client] Bill [Browder] and his efforts, because he cares a lot and he is not allowing Sergei's name to be sullied.
Sergei cannot be saved, but Bill gets a lot of credit for defending his honest name, and I am very thankful to him, and not only to him but to many, many people whom I know and even to strangers who are doing something, who write to us. This gives me strength.