Russian amnesty law is no substitute for genuine legal reform

Mitya Aleshkovskiy is my latest piece published on the IBA Global Insight newsfeed:

Although Russian Orthodox Christmas was still over two weeks away, the news that the country’s parliament had passed a wide-ranging amnesty bill on 18 December must have had many prisoners thinking Christmas had come early.

The law, which has already prompted the release of the Greenpeace Arctic 30 and members of punk band Pussy Riot, coincides with celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the country’s constitution, which proclaims the rule of law and guarantees fundamental human rights to Russian people.

Since the amnesty law mainly applies to first-time offenders, minors and women with young children, the greatest shock came when it was announced that Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who had already spent just over a decade behind bars for convictions of tax evasion, fraud, embezzlement and money laundering, was also due to be released.

With mounting criticism of the crackdown on protests in the country, particularly in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, this development has left many questioning the motive of the amnesty law and what significance it may hold for the rule of law in Russia today.

Published on 28-01-14. Read on here

Khodorkovsky, ten years on

M.B.KhodorkovskyHere is my latest piece published on the IBA Global Insight newsfeed:

The Russian judicial system has been thrust into the spotlight countless times in recent months by the high level of international media attention surrounding trials involving the Arctic 30, the Bolotnaya Square protesters, Pussy Riot and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

However, arguably 25 October this year marks one of the most significant junctures in recent Russian legal history: it is ten years to the day since Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested at gunpoint in Siberia after his plane was stormed by special forces officers and he was detained by the Russian authorities.

Ten years behind bars and the former head of the now bankrupt oil company Yukos has undergone a rollercoaster ride of trials and appeals within Russia and further afield. Both he and his former Yukos business partner Platon Lebedev – who was arrested in July 2003 and has been represented by a separate legal team – first went on trial in June 2004 charged with tax evasion and fraud.

Published on 25-10-13. Read on here

Russia: Amid trial delays, report urges Europe to move forward on Magnitsky Act

stockvault-the-law143256Here is my latest piece published in the IBA Global Insight newsfeed:

As the first posthumous trial in modern Russian history continues to be plagued by setbacks, a report published by the European Parliamentary Assembly may be the strongest indication yet that Europe is getting closer to following the US and passing the Magnitsky Act.

The posthumous trial of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow prison cell in 2009, began in March in Moscow’s Tverskoi court (see Russia: historic Magnitsky trial brings corruption and rule of law into focus). At that point the trial had already been delayed for two months after Magnitsky’s family and the other defendant, the founder of Hermitage Capital and Magnitsky’s former boss, William Browder, refused to take part in the trial.

The Russian authorities then appointed two lawyers, Nikolai Gerasimov and Kirill Goncharov from Law Office No5, to represent Magnitsky and Browder, respectively. However, the trial has continued to be wracked by delays as one of the state-appointed lawyers, Nikolai Gerasimov, also refused to participate. ‘I have not found a single declaration from relatives requesting the case be reopened,’ he said in court in April to Judge Igor Alisov. ‘Since my participation contradicts the opinion and position of the defendant’s relatives, I suggest that I do not have the right to participate in the trial.’

Published on 28-06-13. Read on here

Russia: Reforming or unravelling?

This is my latest feature piece for IBA Global Insight:MoscowWhen Russia finally joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on 22 August 2012, after an 18-year-long hard-fought slog, there were many left wondering if the wait had been worth it – and whether membership would bring any significant change. In a year that saw Vladimir Putin embark upon his third term as the country’s president, it’s unsurprising that few things have changed since last ­­August. Changes that have been implemented appear largely at odds with the new era of transparency promised by WTO membership, instead suggesting some worrying consequences for the rule of law.

One of the most striking incidents to bring Russia’s rule of law into focus in recent years has been the highly publicised case of Moscow-based lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in pre-trial custody in November 2009. While it’s just one incident, Magnitsky’s plight continues to dominate the headlines worldwide and is a stark reminder of Russia’s track record for human rights violations.

Published on 14-06-13. Read on here

Russia: historic Magnitsky trial brings corruption and rule of law into spotlight

Author: Dmitry Rozhkov

Here is my latest piece published in the IBA Global Insight newsfeed:

Russia is set to make history as the country’s first modern-day posthumous trial gets underway in Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court.

The case, involving deceased defendant Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in pre-trial detention in a Moscow prison cell in 2009, has attracted worldwide media attention and brought the issue of corruption in Russia and problems with the country’s judicial and penitentiary systems all firmly under the international spotlight.

Another quirk of the trial will see the other defendant, Bill Browder, the founder of investment fund Hermitage Capital and Magnitsky’s client at the time of his arrest, examined in absentia, making him one of the few foreigners ever to stand trial in absentia in Russia.

Published on 06-03-13. Read on here