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Magnitsky Trial Quickly Adjourned


A guard stands at an entrance to the Tverskoi district court ahead of the start of preliminary hearing into the case of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in Moscow on December 27, 2012.
A Moscow court has opened then immediately adjourned proceedings in an unprecedented, posthumous trial of a whistle-blowing lawyer who died in custody more than three years ago.

Sergei Magnitsky's death sparked an international outcry and caused tensions between Moscow and Washington, which regarded it as further evidence of egregious rights violations and a lack of rule of law in Russia.

Magnitsky, a lawyer for the London-based investment fund Hermitage Capital, was arrested shortly after accusing state officials of a $230 million theft and charged with tax evasion.

On March 11, the judge in the Tverskoi district court quickly adjourned the trial until March 22 to give the court-appointed defense team more time to prepare.

Magnitsky's family says the case against him is fabricated and has refused to participate in the trial.

He died in 2009 in pretrial detention after nearly a year in jail on suspicion of tax fraud.

EU's 'Serious Concern'

Soon after the postponement, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg compared the posthumous trial to events from hundreds of years ago but said the "majority" of EU foreign ministers do not support enacting U.S.-style sanctions.
An employee stands near the empty defendant's dock in the Tverskoi district court in Moscow where the posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky was begun and immediately postponed for 10 days on March 11.
An employee stands near the empty defendant's dock in the Tverskoi district court in Moscow where the posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky was begun and immediately postponed for 10 days on March 11.

"We discussed the Magnitsky case and I said that it's a remarkable return to the Middle Ages, where sometimes you put people out of the grave, brought them to trial, and hanged them officially," Schwarzenberg said after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels that discussed EU-Russia relations. "It is as if we're accepting this good old habit again."

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, also speaking to journalists after the gathering in Brussels, called for a new, concrete agreement with Russia.

"Since we were talking about a comprehensive agreement with Russia, at least we were talking that it should be a legally binding, comprehensive agreement rather than a basic, general [one]," Linkevicius said. "If we are seeking a genuine strategic partnership, we should build our relations on commitment [to] real reforms."

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the block shared "serious concern" for democratic rights in Russia.

"When we were discussing the domestic situation in Russia, there was a great deal of serious concern over recent developments that limit the activities of Russian civil society and negatively influence the democratic rights and freedoms within the country," Ashton said. "We therefore agreed to continue to seek constructive engagement with Russia in areas of common interest and to strengthen our overall strategic relationship while recalling Russia's commitment to guarantee democratic rights and freedoms in line with commitments undertaken in the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and elsewhere."

'Dangerous Precedent'

Last year, the United States passed legislation, known as the Magnitsky Act, to punish officials linked to his death as well as other Russians deemed to have committed rights abuses.

Following that, Russia introduced a ban on all adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens.

Rights watchdog Amnesty International has called Russia's first posthumous trial a "dangerous precedent."

Hermitage owner William Browder is being tried in absentia along with his former employee.

Last week, fresh fraud charges were filed against Browder over dealings a decade ago in shares in the state-controlled gas giant Gazprom.

Browder has said the charges are an "absurdity" meant as revenge for his campaigning for the U.S. rights legislation named after Magnitsky.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, Reuters, and AP
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