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They understand that when we leave, they may be punished for complaining.How to solve this problem of trust, and how to ensure that after our visit prisoners do not have problems with the prison warden is the most difficult question of all. When we tried to carry out a public investigation of Sergei Magnitsky’s death, we found that employees of the detention centre – the managers, doctors and medical assistants – tried to conceal the truth. Neither could they explain the rationale for keeping Magnitsky for over an hour in a separate cell of the admission department, rather than being taken to a hospital cell.This watchdog is an innovation in Russian civil society.While British prison inspectors have been in place for over 100 years, the Commission was only officially constituted in 2009, and was the product of a ten-year compromise with law-enforcement departments.Journalists and human rights activists have for many years attempted to make inroads into this closed system.They have talked and written about the lack of an independent judicial system, about the steady stream of “ordered” cases, and about the many innocent people who find themselves behind bars, classified as criminals at the behest of influential politicians or businessmen.

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The so-called prison “diaries” of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in after being denied crucial medical treatment, are the most obvious documents that fall into this category.

What he does is go to the prison administration and asks them to improve or worsen conditions for that prisoner. When Magnitsky did not budge, he was denied medical attention and was herded around from cell to cell, which was ultimately destroying for him.

At the end of December, our commission issued a report on our study, which we sent to various authorities, from general prosecutor to the head of the Federal Penitentiary Service. While several employees of the Moscow department of the Federal Penitentiary Service have been dismissed from their positions, it is safe to say the system has not yet drawn the necessary conclusions.

But there is no hope for identifying the real culprits responsible for the death of this remarkable, bold and courageous person.

Prison inspectors, Russian style The public investigation of the death of Sergei Magnitsky was the very first item in the inbox of the Moscow Public Oversight Commission for Prisons.


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