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Destruction of Samples in Magnitsky Case Appears to be a Deliberate and Calculated Attempt to Prevent Justice

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today raised concerns over the cremation of tissue, organs, and other samples in the death investigation of 37-year-old lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.  Given the ongoing and controversial nature of the investigation, destruction of the samples by the Russian authorities is contrary to best practices within any judicial system.

Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer investigating a corruption case for a client, UK-based investment firm Hermitage Capital Management, died following 358 days in police custody in Moscow in November 2009. Magnitsky, who had uncovered an alleged $230 million tax fraud perpetrated by a group of senior police officers and government officials, was arrested on November 24, 2008 and charged with tax evasion. The high profile case has focused international attention on human rights abuse and corruption in Russia.

PHR’s experts, including a leading forensic pathologist, reviewed available documentation to provide an independent voice in support of the Magnitsky family. In April, Russian officials turned down a formal request by Magnitsky’s mother, seeking PHR’s independent investigation into her son’s tragic death.  

Russian investigators have identified heart failure due to a preexisting condition as Magnitsky’s cause of death, but have ignored significant findings about the continuously worsening and torturous conditions he endured while in-custody. During the year Magnitsky was imprisoned, he developed conditions requiring medical assistance, but received none despite the 450 letters he wrote about his lack of treatment

“The more we learn about this case, the more it seems that the Russian authorities are intentionally covering up the cause of death of Sergei Magnitsky and are continuing to stonewall any meaningful investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death,” said PHR’s forensic expert pathologist Dr. Robert C. Bux.  “By the time the samples were destroyed, the Russian Government was well aware of Mr. Magnistky's mother’s desire to have the case reviewed by an outside independent organization in accordance with Russian law. Yet her request was blatantly ignored and the samples were conveniently destroyed.”

Last year, in the first independent medical evaluation of the Magnitsky case, Dr. Bux found Magnitsky’s death in detention was the result of cumulative inhumane treatment and deliberate and calculated medical neglect.

“From the day he was arrested until the day he died, Mr. Magnitsky received inadequate medical evaluation and treatment,” said Bux. “A criminal investigation must be launched leading to arrests and prosecution. Magnitsky’s family deserves to finally have some justice.”

In addition to calling for a full international, independent review of the circumstances surrounding Magnitsky’s death, PHR has also called upon the Russian government to accept responsibility under the UN Anti-torture Convention for the torture, medical neglect, and inhumane conditions that caused his death. PHR addressed its appeal for an independent investigation to the UN General Secretary, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Chair of the OSCE, leaders of the US Congress, and President of the European Council, among others.

“We continue to find evidence of torture and deliberate medical neglect throughout this case,” said Stefan Schmitt, PHR’s International Forensic Program Director. “Mr. Magnitsky died almost three years ago, but there still has not been a criminal investigation against those responsible for his imprisonment and ultimately his death.”

>> Read the press release in Russian (pdf)

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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