British whistleblower and former ambassador to Uzbekistan, turned writer, Craig Murray has reported an important ruling by the European Court of Human Rights with respect to the case of Sergei Magnitsky, an associate of financier Bill Browder, who died in a Russian jail years ago.
In a September 16th blog post, Murray reported the following:
The conscientious judges of the European Court of Human Rights published a judgement a fortnight ago which utterly exploded the version of events promulgated by Western governments and media in the case of the late Mr Magnitskiy. Yet I can find no truthful report of the judgement in the mainstream media at all.
The myth is that Magnitskiy was an honest rights campaigner and accountant who discovered corruption by Russian officials and threatened to expose it, and was consequently imprisoned on false charges and then tortured and killed. A campaign over his death was led by his former business partner, hedge fund manager Bill Browder, who wanted massive compensation for Russian assets allegedly swindled from their venture. The campaign led to the passing of the Magnitskiy Act in the United States, providing powers for sanctioning individuals responsible for human rights abuses, and also led to matching sanctions being developed by the EU.
However the European Court of Human Rights has found, in judging a case brought against Russia by the Magnitskiy family, that the very essence of this story is untrue. They find that there was credible evidence that Magnitskiy was indeed engaged in tax fraud, in conspiracy with Browder, and he was rightfully charged. The ECHR also found there was credible evidence that Magnitskiy was indeed a flight risk so he was rightfully detained. And most crucially of all, they find that there was credible evidence of tax fraud by Magnitskiy and action by the authorities “years” before he started to make counter-accusations of corruption against officials investigating his case.
Murray has often been a voice of reason when it comes to all of the mud slung at the Russian government, much of which turns out to be false or at least very questionable in terms of what Washington and the establishment media want us to believe: Russiagate, the audacious attempted murder of an ex-spy and his daughter in Britain with poison that has unique and notorious qualities except that the poison in this instance didn’t act in the usual unique and notorious manner, and the big bad Russian government harassed and locked up an innocent “lawyer” who worked for the long-suffering Bill Browder.
And I for one am grateful for Murray’s courage and sharp analysis. However, if one reads Murray’s piece in its entirety, they will also read this paragraph:
Where the Court did find in favour of Magnitskiy’s family is that he had been deprived of sufficient medical attention and subject to brutality while in jail. I have no doubt this is true. Conditions in Russian jails are a disgrace, as is the entire Russian criminal justice system. There are few fair trials and conviction rates remain well over 90% – the judges assume that if you are being prosecuted, the state wants you locked up, and they comply. This is one of many areas where the Putin era will be seen in retrospect as lacking in meaningful and needed domestic reform. Sadly what happened to Magnitskiy on remand was not special mistreatment. It is what happens in Russian prisons.
Now, as I’ve acknowledged in other posts, I’m not suggesting that Russian jails are nice places or that Russia doesn’t have any problems in its criminal justice system. However, Murray’s characterization that the entire criminal justice system in Russia is a “disgrace,” that judges pretty much rubber stamp the government’s charges in locking everyone up, and that Putin has done little to nothing in terms of reform of the justice system in Russia is just plain false.
As part of my research for my forthcoming book, I looked into the state of the justice system in Russia during the Putin era and found many important reforms made since 2000. I published an excerpt in a post earlier this year. Here are some relevant points from that post:
The 1993 constitution guarantees the presumption of innocence for criminal defendants as well as the right to counsel (Henderson 2011). During Putin’s first two terms as president, he introduced or oversaw the implementation of the rights of habeas corpus and trial by jury, and increased rights to exculpatory evidence (Petro 2018). After certain reforms made by Putin to the criminal code, acquittal rates in bench trials (only heard by a judge) doubled and acquittal rates in jury trials tripled, contributing to a 40 percent drop in the overall incarceration rate and a 95 percent drop in the juvenile incarceration rate since 2001 (Petro 2018).
He also introduced the role of bailiffs and Justices of the Peace (JP’s) into the system (Petro 2018).
JP’s act as judges in the lowest tier of courts and preside over approximately 75 percent of civil cases and 45 percent of criminal cases – most of the latter are resolved through plea bargaining (Hendley 2017). University of Wisconsin Professor Kathryn Hendley concluded in her years-long study of Russia’s court system, Everyday Law in Russia, that JP’s demonstrate independence – in other words, they base their decisions on the written law – in the vast majority of cases before them. Exceptions involve the very small percentage of cases that are politically sensitive, particularly to the Kremlin. In these instances the JP’s will often go along with power as a matter of being socialized into the system rather than being overtly told to do so….
Hendley also found that overall, in civil and administrative cases, the Russian government often loses.
“State agencies are frequent litigants in civil cases, both as plaintiffs and defendants. Both in JP courts and other courts, they are more likely to lose these cases than are private actors. Their victory in administrative cases involving private citizens, such as traffic violations and fines for noncompliance with various laws, is far from automatic. The same is true in the business setting. Economic actors’ challenges to their treatment by the tax and other regulatory authorities are frequently successful (Hendley 2017).”
Court rulings in civil cases favoring private plaintiffs over the government occur at a rate of approximately 70 percent (Petro 2018).
Furthermore, during Putin’s second term, courts ruled that individuals arrested without merit must be compensated and compensation limits for government negligence were struck down, making it more meaningful when the Russian government comes out on the losing end of such cases (Petro 2018).
Foreign businesses operating in Russia have benefited from the improved state of the legal system. Lawsuits on behalf of foreign businesses have tripled since 2014 and favorable judgments have increased from 59 percent to 83 percent (Petro 2018). Many Russians are reluctant to take a dispute to court, citing time, inconvenience, and “the difficulty of proving one’s case.” But as incomes increase and the traditional informal methods of resolving disputes become less relevant, more Russians are utilizing the court system, increasing from one million in 1998 to over seventeen million in 2016 (Petro 2018). Hendley found many of these Russians to be generally satisfied with their experiences, which largely take place in the JP system, regardless of whether they won or lost. 80 percent of Russians find JP’s to be “well trained and competent” with only 10 percent believing their JP was biased (Hendley 2017).
(Sources are listed in the original post. )
People are entitled to their opinions about Russia and Putin, but they should be based on credible and current information, not misinformation or outdated information. I’ve sadly come to expect whopping inaccuracy from the establishment media about Russia, but find it particularly disappointing when it’s perpetuated by someone like Murray.