The Oversight Commission Report on Magnitsky

magnitsky122809.jpgThe news of the first independent report to examine the death of Hermitage lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who spent a year in prison without charges while being denied medical treatment, has shocked the Russian public and become a major matter of concentration for the local media.  The authors state in no uncertain terms that they believe that Magnitsky was subjected to psychological and physical pressure which resulted in his death.  The authors also cite the many lies of the authorities during the aftermath, including the denials that they had received his requests and complaints for medical assistance. 

In response to the unexpected public outrage over Magnitsky, the government is taking some unprecedented steps, such as admitting fault, firing scores of top prison officials, and as reported in today’s press – President Medvedev has also called for a ban on jail sentences for tax evaders and other types of economic crimes (meaning in theory he should release Khodorkovsky & Lebedev, but no one thinks that will happen).  What the government has not done, however, is venture anywhere close to the question of WHY Magnitsky was murdered, and WHO was asking that he be tortured to cover up the theft.  Until the prosecutors and the thieves in government they represent behind the case are roped into the investigations, everything else is just window dressing.

The devastating 20-page report published by the Moscow Public Oversight Commission, chaired by the esteemed Valery Borshev, is now available in English right here.  Below are the conclusions from the report.


A man who is kept in prison is not capable of using all the necessary means to protect either his life or his health. This is a responsibility of a state which holds him captive. Therefore, the case of Sergei Magnitsky can be described as a breach of the right to live. The members of the of the civic supervisory commission, have reached the conclusion that Magnitsky had been experiencing both psychological and physical pressure in prison, and the conditions in some of the wards of Butyrka can be justifiably called torturous. The people responsible for this must be punished.

The reform of the penitentiary system, when it was split out of the Interior Ministry and transferred to the Ministry of Justice, was aimed at the separation of the latter from the inquest. The prosecution must be independent from the detention. It must keep prisoners and convicts in the respective institutions following the conditions set out by the law and not by inquest’s attitude to them. The interference of the inquest in determining the conditions for the convicts and accused ones is not acceptable. Nevertheless, this happens quite often. It is an offense against the law. The members of the Public Oversight Commission believe that it is necessary to find out the role of the investigators in creating conditions and subjecting Magnitsky to them in detention, and the degree of their responsibility.

Magnitsky’s situation highlighted the fact that the doctors of the investigative isolation ward failed to fulfill their responsibilities. We believe that this is due to their dependence on the administration of the penitentiary system’s institutions. The health care in the above-mentioned institutions must not be a part of the prosecution authority, it must be independent.

It is necessary to set out the legal framework of transfers of the prisoners from one prison to another, clearly define the rules of the transfer from one isolation ward to another, the responsibility for the unlawful worsening of jail conditions. We must prevent what happened to Sergei Magnitsky from happening again.

We must provide the solution to the long overdue question of choosing the right punitive measures for the accused in custody, especially for ones accused in economic crimes. We must use alternative measures of restraint; we do have them.

We must define by law under which conditions an accused person must not be placed in the isolation ward, when he or she must be set free, when the alternative measures of restraint must be used. Courts, while deciding on the measures of restraint, must take into consideration the health conditions of the accused.

We must put the Russian normative acts in accordance with the European penitentiary rules. This discrepancy was a precise reason for the complaints of Magnitsky regarding the conditions under which prisoners are kept in the isolation wards, limitations of the shower use, the failure to provide the necessary medical help, isolation from the communication with the family and public members and others.

The participation in the court hearings is accompanied by the cruel and disgraceful conditions which disgraces a human life. This includes the preparation procedures of transportation to court and the transportation itself, and the conditions in court, including deprivation of hot meals. This is an old and general problem, but the one which is not at all solved.

V. Borschev, Chairman of the Public Oversight Committee, Moscow

L.Volkova, Deputy Chairman of the Public Oversight Committee, Moscow

T. Flerova, Secretary of the Public Oversight Committee, Moscow

L. Alpern, Member of the Public Oversight Committee, Moscow

L. Dubikova, Member of the Public Oversight Committee, Moscow

Z. Svetova, Member of the Public Oversight Committee, Moscow