These officials fabricated a case and put him in a cell with eight inmates and four beds to sleep deprive him. They put him in a cell with no heat and no window panes so he nearly froze to death. They put him in a cell with no toilet, just a hole in the floor where sewage was ankle deep. After six months of this, he lost 40 pounds, developed Pancreatitis and gallstones, and needed an urgent operation. Instead of giving him that operation, they moved him to a prison with no medical facilities and systematically denied him medical care in spite of 20 official requests for him to be treated. Even a personal appeal by U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle was ignored.
On the night of November 16, 2009, Sergei went into critical condition. Only then did they move him to an emergency room, but instead of treating him, they put him in a straightjacket, chained him to a bed and left him for one hour and eighteen minutes until he was dead. The doctors present waited outside his cell. The Wall Street Journal described it as a "slow motion assassination."
President Medvedev’s Working Group Committee for Human Rights concluded that the case against Sergei was fabricated. Not only have the officials involved not been prosecuted, but many of the officials who were involved in his false arrest and torture have been promoted and given state honors. While Medvedev continues to push legal reforms he also refuses to prosecute corrupt officials. The result is the creation of a class of untouchables, people who are above the law and who steal, arrest, torture, and murder with impunity.
Since obtaining a measure of justice inside Russia is impossible, people who recognize the heroic stand that Sergei took are pushing not only to get some measure of justice for him but to prevent such terrible things from happening in the future.
The “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011” would deny torturers and murderers the privilege of visiting America and prevent them from using our financial system to launder their ill-gotten gains. This legislation goes far beyond this specific tragic case and could apply well beyond Russia. It will be a fitting legacy for Sergei, striking a powerful blow against the impunity enjoyed by so many violators of human rights. It removes their ability to enjoy the most prized fruits of their unscrupulous actions: travel to the west and the ability to shelter their fortunes and themselves from other corrupt colleagues. It is clear that Samuel Charap had not read the legislation before making his comments.
The Act has the overwhelming support of Russian human rights and anti-corruption activists as well as a Russian public frustrated and furious with the impunity of their officials. It was largely due to appeals from Russian activists that the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament approved a resolution calling for EU-wide visa sanctions and asset freezes of these same corrupt officials.
I'm amazed that anyone could argue against banning torturers and murderers from coming to America for any reason; especially when the Russian people themselves are begging us to take action.
Sergei is internationally recognized as a martyr and a hero. We wish to deter the people who tortured and killed him and others like them from repeating these actions. Russia has proven that it cannot be relied upon to enforce its law or international law against its own officials. Therefore the Magnitsky Act does not ask or tell the Russians to do anything. It simply punishes torturers and murderers and thereby deters others from engaging in similar acts. Just as one man’s act of martyrdom kicked off sweeping changes right across the Middle-East, so Sergei’s uncompromising commitment to truth and justice has the potential to change the world for good. Will we support that change?
Jamison Firestone is Managing Partner of Firestone Duncan, an American law firm based in Moscow where Sergei Magnitsky was employed. The firm specializes in inward foreign investment and also maintains an office in London.