The US House Committee on Foreign Affairs [official website] voted Thursday to approve a bill [HR 4405 text, PDF] that would impose sanctions on Russian officials linked to the 2009 death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky [JURIST news archive]. If passed, the bill will bar the US State Department (DOS) [official website] from issuing visas to Russian officials connected with Magnitsky's death and will impose other sanctions, including making public the names of suspected officials and banning them from banking in the US. A private investigative report issued in November 2011 detailed the denial of medical treatment [JURIST report] to and severe physical abuse of Magnitsky, a former Russian lawyer and purported whistle-blower. He died [JURIST report] in a Moscow prison in November 2009. In a statement [press release], Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Committee chairman, explained the bill:
This bill ... does what the Russian government should have done years ago, namely hold accountable those government officials and others who participated in the arrest, murder, or cover-up of Magnitsky or who benefited from his death. But it goes further than this single crime. It also requires that those responsible for the death, torture, or repression of individuals investigating crimes by Russian government officials, or who were simply trying to exercise their basic human rights, be publicly named and sanctioned.Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev admitted in 2011 that the death of Magnitsky was the result of criminal acts, differing from his previous explanation which had blamed prison doctors.
Prior to his death, Magnitsky was held in prison for 358 days with little to no access to legal representation, his family or medical professionals. In a controversial move last August, Russian investigators reopened the case [JURIST report] against Magnitsky on the basis of a new ruling permitting criminal cases against the dead. Critics of this action, such as JURIST Contributing Editor David Crane, argue that the ongoing posthumous prosecution of Magnitsky is a violation of the rule of law [JURIST op-ed] and an embarrassment for the Russian judicial system. Last year, US lawmakers introduced a bill [JURIST report] to sanction individuals who are connected to Magnitsky's death.