Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee on human rights, for inviting me here today.
For those of you who don't know the story, I'd like to briefly repeat the story of Sergei Magnitsky. Then I'll tell you what has happened since the last time I testified here in front of the subcommittee.
The story starts out more than 15 years ago, when I moved to Russia to set up Hermitage Capital Management, which became the largest foreign investment firm in Russia. When I was there, I discovered that the companies in which I was investing in the Russian stock market were essentially being robbed. Billions of dollars were being stolen from these companies.
I decided to try to fight the corruption by researching how it was done and then exposing it through the mass media. As you can imagine, doing such a thing didn't create that many friends. In November 2005 I was expelled from the country and declared a threat to national security.
In 2007 police officers raided my Moscow office, seized all of our corporate documents, and then used those documents, through a complicated scheme, to steal $230 million of taxes that we had paid to the Russian government the previous year. It wasn't our money that was stolen. It was Russian government money that was stolen.
It was a very complicated and legally unpleasant experience, so we went out and hired a number of lawyers, including a lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky, who was 36 years old and worked for an American law firm at the time. He was, in my opinion, one of the smartest and most diligent lawyers in Moscow. He went out to investigate the situation and the crime. He came back with evidence and clear proof that government officials were involved in this enormous $230 million tax theft.
Instead of turning a blind eye, as many others would have done at the time, Sergei Magnitsky decided to testify against the officials who were involved. He testified in July of 2008, and again in October of 2008. One month later, on November 24, 2008, two subordinates of one of the police officers he testified against came to his home at 8 in the morning, in front of his wife and two children, arrested him, and put him in pretrial detention.
While he was in pretrial detention, he was tortured to get him to withdraw his testimony. His jailers put him in a cell with fourteen inmates and eight beds, and left the lights on 24 hours a day to impose sleep deprivation. They put him in a cell with no heat and no windowpanes in December in Moscow, and he nearly froze to death. They put him in a cell with no toilet, just a hole in the floor where the sewage would bubble up.
After six months of this treatment, his health started to break down. He lost 40 pounds, developed severe stomach pains, and was diagnosed as having pancreatitis and gallstones. He needed an operation, which was prescribed on the first of August in 2009.
One week before the scheduled operation, he was abruptly moved away from the prison that had medical facilities to a prison called Butyrka, which is a maximum-security prison and widely considered to be one of the toughest prisons in Russia. Most significantly for Sergei, at Butyrka they had no proper medical facilities to treat his ailment.
At Butyrka his health completely broke down. He went into constant, agonizing, unbearable pain. He and his lawyers made 20 desperate official requests for medical attention. In spite of his pleas, every single one of his requests was either ignored or denied.
Finally his body succumbed. On the night of November 16, he went into critical condition. On that night, the prison officials decided to move him back to a prison with medical facilities. He was transferred to Matrosskaya Tishina prison that night, but when he arrived there, instead of being treated in the emergency room, he was put into an isolation cell and eight riot guards with rubber batons beat him for one hour and 18 minutes. He was subsequently found dead on the floor of that cell on the night of November 16, 2009, more than three years ago.
How do we know all this? We know it because in Sergei’s 358 days in detention, he wrote 450 complaints detailing every aspect of how he was tortured: what they did to him, who did it, where they did it, and how they did it.
Because of these documents, he created an unbelievably detailed record of what happened to him. In conjunction with that, after his death, we've confronted on a legal basis the Russian law enforcement system, and from that we've been able to glean lots of other documents supporting and proving all the things that he said had happened to him.
As a result of the documents he created and the documents that have come out of the Russian justice system, we have what I would consider to be the most well-documented human rights abuse case that has come out of Russia in the last 25 years. Because of all this information, there have now been, since he died, 39,000 articles in the Russian press mentioning the name Sergei Magnitsky.
Now, everything that I've told you is appalling—you can't not be appalled by it—but what makes this story truly significant on an international political level is not the actual crime they committed, but what happened afterwards. And what happened afterwards is a high-level government cover-up that goes right up to the President of Russia.
It's kind of like Watergate. It wasn't the break-in that made that crime so significant. It was the cover-up that led to the resignation of the President of America at the time.
Just to give you some idea of the cover-up, one day after Sergei died, the Russian interior ministry announced that Sergei had never complained about his health and that he died of natural causes, with no signs of violence, even though in looking at any pictures from the autopsy report you can see that his arms, wrists, and knees are black and blue.
Every single one of the police officers, judges, jailers, and members of the security service involved in this case have been formally exonerated. Some have even been promoted and granted state honours. As if that wasn't enough, to add insult to injury, they're now taking Sergei to court more than two years after his death and prosecuting him in the very first posthumous prosecution in Russian history. They're putting a dead man on trial. And if that wasn't enough, the same officials who killed Sergei are now summoning his grieving mother and wife as witnesses in the case against their dead son and husband.
Given these circumstances, it is clear that no justice is possible inside Russia, so his family and I have sought justice outside of Russia. In 2010 I was invited to testify in front of the U.S. Congress to tell the story of Sergei Magnitsky. Following my testimony, Senator Benjamin Cardin, the co-chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and representative Jim McGovern, co-chair of the Lantos House Human Rights Commission, proposed an initiative to withdraw the U.S. visas of the 60 officials identified as playing a role in the Sergei Magnitsky case. We couldn't necessarily force the Russian government to prosecute his killers, but they certainly didn't have the right to enter the U.S.
On November 15, 2012, with an unprecedented bipartisanship, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favour of passing the Magnitsky Act by 365 to 43. The U.S. Senate voted last Thursday, passing the Magnitsky Act by 92 to 4. The Magnitsky Act freezes assets, bans visas, and names names of the people who killed Sergei Magnitsky. Broader than that, it bans visas, freezes assets, and names names of people who perpetrate other human rights abuses in Russia.
Since the Magnitsky Act was proposed, 11 parliaments around the world, including this Parliament, have introduced motions, resolutions, petitions, and legislation that have called for visa sanctions and asset freezes on the people who killed Sergei Magnitsky, as well as others who perpetrate gross human rights abuses in Russia. Resolutions calling for visa bans and asset freezes have also been passed in the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.
There is only one group of people in the world that is against this legislation, and that is the Russian regime itself. They're absolutely terrified that this would possibly come into force. Until now, they've lived in a world where they can commit human rights abuses with no consequence, since they control their own justice system, and they know that they can torture and kill with full knowledge that nothing will happen to them. In many ways, they cannot control their own system if they cannot guarantee impunity for the foot soldiers who commit these crimes.
The Russian hierarchy, after initially dismissing such threats of sanctions, is now so terrified of the repercussions of this legislation that three days after President Putin was re-inaugurated he announced that his third most important foreign policy priority was to fight Magnitsky sanctions. He assigned his foreign minister to publicly threaten any country that considered passing Magnitsky sanctions.
In an unprecedented move, members of the Russian parliament were actually sent to Washington to slander Sergei Magnitsky and to try to talk Congress out of passing the Magnitsky Act, which they failed at.
I am here today to urge you, the members of the Canadian House of Commons, to follow the lead of the U.S. Congress and join parliamentarians across Europe and deny visas to and place asset freezes on the people who played a part in the false arrest, torture, denial of medical care, and death of Sergei Magnitsky, and on those who took part in the cover-up of this thing. They should not be able to come to Canada freely, and they should not be able to buy properties here or take holidays here and enjoy the fruits of their blood money here.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Messrs. Vice-Chairmen, honourable members of the subcommittee. Thank you very much for holding this timely and important meeting today and for the opportunity to appear before you.
The tragic story of Sergei Magnitsky, whose only “crime” was to stand against corruption, is unfortunately symptomatic of the general situation in Vladimir Putin's Russia, where state-sanctioned theft and extortion, politically motivated prosecutions, wrongful imprisonment, police abuse, media censorship, suppression of peaceful assembly, and electoral fraud have become the norm. According to the World Bank, corruption now engulfs 48% of the entire Russian economy. During Mr. Putin's rule, his close entourage came to control large sectors of the economy, most notably the energy sector, and the president's personal friends have become, in dollar terms, billionaires.
At the very same time, the judicial and legislative branches were turned into rubber stamps. Many of those who refused to toe the line ended up in prison—suffice it to mention Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Independent television channels were shut down, opposition rallies were repeatedly dispersed by force, and elections were routinely falsified. No Russian vote has been judged free and fair by either the OSCE or the Council of Europe since the year 2000.
The tragic story of Sergei Magnitsky, whose only crime was to stand against corruption, is unfortunately symptomatic of the general situation in Vladimir Putin's Russia, where state-sanctioned extortion and theft, political persecution, wrongful imprisonment, police abuse, media censorship, suppression of peaceful assembly and electoral fraud have become the norm.
If that is possible, the situation in our country is growing worse. Just in the last few months, Mr. Putin has signed a barrage of new repressive laws. The fines for “violations” during public street rallies were increased to $10,000. That is ten times Russia's average monthly salary, and of course it is the authorities who decide what constitutes a violation. Non-governmental organizations that accept funding from abroad are being forced to tag themselves as “foreign agents”, and this includes such reputable human rights groups as Memorial, founded by Andrei Sakharov, while the definition of “high treason” in the penal code, which is punishable by up to 20 years in jail, has been broadened to such an extent that it can include almost any contact with a foreign country, a foreign organization, or an international organization.
Police also this year conducted raids on the homes of leading opposition figures, including former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who was a guest here at this Parliament just a few months ago. Opposition leaders, such as Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov, found themselves under criminal investigation. Perhaps most incredibly, a Russian opposition activist, Leonid Razvozzhayev, was recently kidnapped on the sovereign territory of Ukraine, forcibly brought back to Russia, and tortured into “confessing his guilt”.
Needless to say, there are no domestic legal mechanisms for Russian citizens to defend themselves against such abuses. Fortunately, there are international norms. The Moscow document of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, to which both Russia and Canada are parties, explicitly states that, “issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law...are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.”
It is no secret that a great number of Russian officials, while preferring the style of governance of Zimbabwe or Belarus at home, are choosing the countries of North America and western Europe when it comes to their bank deposits, their vacation homes, or schooling for their children. This double standard must end. It is time for some personal accountability for those who continue to violate the rights and plunder the resources of Russian citizens. The Russian opposition and civil society, as well as a strong plurality of Russian citizens, according to most recent opinion polls, back measures such as the Magnitsky Act, which was passed by the United States Congress last week. These are measures that introduce targeted visa sanctions and asset freezes on those implicated in the case of Sergei Magnitsky, as well as those implicated in other cases of gross violations of human rights in the Russian Federation, in particular, as the new American law mentions, the rights to freedom of association and assembly, fair trials, and democratic elections.
It is no secret that a great number of Russian officials, while preferring the style of governance of Zimbabwe or Belarus at home, are choosing the countries of North America and western Europe when it comes to their bank accounts, their places of residence or schooling for their children.
This double standard must end. It is time for some personal accountability for those who continue to violate the rights and plunder the resources of Russian citizens.
A similar bill, Bill , has been introduced in this House by the honourable member for Mount Royal, Mr. Cotler, a member of the subcommittee. In our view, in the view of the Russian opposition, this is a much needed and long overdue measure that deserves full attention, and it could be strengthened even further by including an asset freeze provision and by covering other human rights violations beyond those in the case of Sergei Magnitsky.
Mr. Chairman, one year ago this week, 100,000 people gathered on Bolotnaya Square in central Moscow, literally just across the river from the Kremlin walls, to demand free elections, the rule of law, the release of political prisoners, and democratic reforms. This was the start of the largest wave of pro-democracy demonstrations in Russia since the fall of communism in 1991.
Russia is changing, and the task of bringing this democratic change to our country is, of course, the task for us, the Russian opposition, and not for any outside players. But if the world's democratic nations, if our friends and allies here in the Canadian Parliament, want to show solidarity with the Russian people and want to stand up for the universal values of human rights, human dignity, and democracy, I think the best way to do it is to tell those crooks, those murderers, those abusers that they are not welcome in your country.
Thank you very much.
I would say the first thing, the most obvious, is to shine the spotlight and say the truth. That always sounds banal, but it's really important. For instance, I remember on March 5 of this year—that's the day after Mr. Putin's “election victory”—there was a big rally on Moscow's Pushkinskaya Square, and we were all standing there. I remember seeing literally a sea of faces and flags of different movements, parties, left, right, doesn't matter—people just coming together once again to stand up for their dignity and to protest this election fraud that had just been accomplished. At that very time, as we were standing there, the U.S. State Department issued a congratulatory note, congratulating the Russian people, no less, for having held a presidential election. That's not what we were prepared to hear at that moment.
Obviously we all understand that there's such a thing as protocol, a need to cooperate, even with non-democratic countries. That's all clear, but congratulating a people after an election fraud has been done to them was taken at best as a mockery and at worst as an insult.
To always tell the truth is very important, and to call things for what they are. By shining a spotlight, I mean holding meetings such as the one you are holding today, these are very important and these are noticed. I promise you, these are noticed a great deal back in Moscow.
Secondly, I would say it's very fortunate that we have this oversight mechanism, which contains these provisions that human rights are global and they're matters of international concern. When Mr. Putin and Mr. Lavrov say, “Don't interfere in our internal affairs”, they're not telling the truth, and they know it, because issues of human rights are not considered internal affairs; these are matters of international concern. Things like election observation missions, which were, of course, a big deal a year ago, when there were many observers, both international and domestic, and the scale of the fraud, when about 13 million votes were stolen by Mr. Putin in favour of his party in the parliamentary election a year ago—that played a huge role in the protest movement and in the awakening of Russian civil society.
These kinds of oversight mechanisms, of election observations, of media systems.... You mentioned journalists; those are very important too.
Thirdly, of course, and actually the first priority, once again the subject of our meeting today, is the Magnitsky legislation against human rights abuses, a clear signal—and not just words, but action.
They are scheduled for 2016. However, the people from the strategic research centre, which is a think tank created by people close to Mr. Putin, so rather loyal supporters who are not with the opposition at all, said that, at the moment when there is a financial crisis, in two or three years, the provinces will join the large cities to protest. There will be a political crisis and the regime will call an early election, before 2016.
So the parliamentary election is just planned for 2016. As former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson said, a week is a long time in politics. So there is no way to tell what will happen in four years. I think—and that is also the opinion of many of my colleagues—that everything will change very quickly in Russia and it will be before 2016.
To answer your question, the people from the coordinating council were elected in the primaries. Some tens of thousands of people, including opposition supporters, participated in that election. The council is made up of 45 members from the whole political spectrum, be it the left or right. So the council has socialists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, independents and non-partisan members. So everyone is represented.
For the time being, that has nothing to do with the official elections, because the way the elections are organized is neither free nor democratic. So we cannot really challenge the elections organized by Putin's regime. However, given the pressure from the huge demonstrations that have taken place over the past few years, pressure from around the world—which is what we are talking about today—and action on a personal level, the situation may change. For the first time in a few years, there are legal opposition parties in Russia. Actually, as part of the concessions that I mentioned earlier, the regime introduced a small reform one year ago. There are now opposition parties that can register and participate in the elections.
For example, I am a member of the Party of Popular Freedom, led by Boris Nemtsov, Mikhaïl Kassianov and Vladimir Ryjkov. The party is officially registered and has the right to participate in the elections. We intend to participate in the local and municipal elections that take place every year in September.