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Magnitsky's Mother, Widow Honored In U.S.

William Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management; U.S. Congressman James McGovern; Natalia Magnitskaya, Sergei Magnitsky's mother; and Natalia Magnitskaya, Sergei Magnitsky's widow (left to right) at a reception in Washington on April 17.
WASHINGTON -- The mother and widow of whistle-blowing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky were honored at a private reception in Washington on April 17.

Natalia Magnitskaya, the mother of the late lawyer, and his wife, also named Natalia, were presented with a copy of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.

The U.S. legislation mandates visa bans against Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky's prosecution and death and in other perceived gross rights violations. Any U.S. assets they may hold are also frozen.

The White House's list of 18 individuals who are targeted under the Magnitsky act was published on April 12.

Moscow hit back a day later with a blacklist of U.S. officials allegedly involved in rights violations.

Magnitsky's mother, widow, and 11-year-old son, Nikita, are in the United States for the first time to meet lawmakers and activists who supported the legislation.

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U.S. Congressman James McGovern (Democrat-Massachusetts), one of the Magnitsky act's original backers, said he hoped it would help the family deal with their loss.

"It is my sincere hope that one day this law will become obsolete and that Sergei Magnitsky's name will forever be associated with Russia's turn toward a more just society, where critical voices are heard and corruption and human rights abuses are no more," he said.

"Today I would like to present Mrs. Magnitskaya with a copy of this law, and I hope that you will find at least some comfort in knowing that your son, your husband, and your father's name is forever attached to the ideals of truth and human rights."

Magnitsky's 61-year-old mother, Natalia, countered Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and others officials in Moscow who have branded the Magnitsky act "Russophobic."

"I would very much like there to be no more situations where it would be necessary to enact such a law. I'd like there to be laws that unite countries," Magnitskaya said.

"[But] I would also like to agree with those -- and it my own personal opinion -- that this law is not aimed against Russia. It's aimed against specific people who broke the law. And I hope that, thanks to this law, there will be less and less of that kind of people."

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Looking around the room at the approximately 100 supporters in attendance, she added, "I see there are a lot of good people in the world and it gives me strength to keep living."

Magnitsky died in 2009 after nearly a year in pretrial detention, during which he was repeatedly denied medical care and beaten. He had implicated officials from Russia's Interior Ministry and others in a scheme to steal $230 million from state coffers. He was soon charged with financial crimes and arrested by some of the same officials he had implicated. No Russian officials have been convicted in connection with the fraud scheme or Magnitsky's death.

Magnitsky's case has become an international symbol of injustice and a marker of Russia's troubling human-rights and rule-of-law record.

McGovern said he hoped U.S. passage of the legislation would encourage the European Union to take similar steps. Supporters of sanctions say a European move would bite harder, as Russian officials keep significantly more money in Europe than the United States.

In an interview with RFE/RL, the congressman called both the Magnitsky list and its classified annex of additional names "a work in progress." He said he "takes the administration at its word" that it will add names to the list in the future.

The April 17 reception, which was organized by U.S. rights watchdog Freedom House, also featured speeches by Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov and William Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, which Magnitsky represented.

It was held at the home of political adviser and lobbyist Juleanna Glover, who worked on Browder's behalf as he pushed for U.S. sanctions.

A posthumous trial against Magnitsky continues in Russia. Browder is also being tried in absentia.