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Russian Commission Blames Officials For Lawyer's Death In Detention

Friends and relatives pay their last respects to lawyer Sergei Magnitsky at a Moscow cemetery.
(RFE/RL) -- An independent commission charged with monitoring human rights in Russian correctional facilities has condemned the treatment in jail of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow remand prison on November 16.

The 37-year-old Magnitsky had complained that prison officials had refused to provide him medical treatment for pancreatic and stomach ailments.

Valery Borshchev, head of the Moscow Public Oversight Commission and a leading Russian human rights activist, said that Magnitsky's rights were violated.

"We concluded that he was not given proper medical attention. The conditions in which he was held became steadily worse," he told RFE/RL's Russian Service.

"In 3 1/2 months, he was in eight different cells. And they were bad cells, in which, for example, there was no sunlight, no ventilation. There were three people for 8 1/2 square meters of space."

The 20-page report (in Russian) blames Interior Ministry investigators and the administration and medical staff of the Butyrka remand prison for creating the conditions that led to Magnitsky's death.

Magnitsky spent nearly a year in custody awaiting trial on tax-fraud charges. An attorney for the Hermitage Capital investment fund, Magnitsky testified in 2008 against two police officers who raided Hermitage's Moscow headquarters and confiscated documents that were allegedly later used by organized crime groups to take over Hermitage-controlled companies.

Supporters say the case against Magnitsky, which was investigated by one of the police officers against whom Magnitsky had earlier testified, was intended to pressure him to testify against Hermitage and its U.S.-born founder, William Browder.

Naming Names

The commission's report accuses Interior Ministry investigator Major Oleg Silchenko of "either negligence or a deliberate intent to conceal the motivation of his refusal to provide a medical examination" for Magnitsky. It calls the refusal of medical care, despite repeated requests, "cynical" and says that ministry claims that no requests for treatment were made are untrue.

The report also blames Silchenko for initiating Magnitsky's transfer from the Matrosskaya Tishina prison to Butyrka and for preventing Magnitsky from communicating with his family while he was in custody.

"Based on Magnitsky's conditions at the Butyrka detention facility," the report states, "members of the Public Oversight Commission have come to the conclusion that in fact psychological and physical pressure was exerted upon him."

The report also blames Moscow Judge Yelena Stashina for rejecting documents attesting to Magnitsky's medical condition and for refusing to release him from pretrial detention. It calls on the Supreme Court and the legal community to "review the current situation not only with Judge Stashina, but also in general regarding cases with seriously ill detainees."

The commission's report disputes the official claim that Magnitsky died of heart failure, saying there is ample evidence that he died of complications from pancreatitis.

Commission head Borshchev said the report will be forwarded to authorities at the highest levels and that he expects it will be acted upon.

"Of course, these conclusions will be sent to the presidential ombudsman on human rights, the prosecutor-general, the Moscow prosecutor's office, the justice minister," Borshchev said.

"I don't think that everything that we wrote here will be accepted, but certainly some of it will. And we will send it to the president, since he initiated this investigation."

Shortly after Magnitsky's death, Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the presidential Council for Promoting Civil and Human Rights, called the incident "a murder and a tragedy."

Earlier this month, Medvedev fired about two dozen senior corrections officials in connection with the Magnitsky case.