Svetova: Nekrasov Anti-Magnitsky Film Propaganada, not Art

“I am not Mr. Browder’s attorney. I am defending the memory of Sergei Magnitsky. Therefore, I consider the film by Andrey Nekrasov to be a piece of propaganda, not art”

Andrey Nekrasov’s film about Sergei Magnitsky was screened in Helsinki recently. I have already seen this film at the Moscow International Festival. I believe I ought to speak and write about it.

Sergei Magnitsky’s story is in many aspects a personal story for me. I became a member of the Public Monitoring Commission for Prisons in 2008. We were given the right to visit Moscow prisons from time to time. When in August – September 2009, I started visiting the Butyrka Prison, I had no idea that Magnitsky was in custody there. I was later shocked by the news that he had died at the Matrosskaya Tishina Prison. It turns out that we, human rights defenders, could have helped and saved Sergei Magnitsky from death. But we did not. We were not able to save him, because we were not aware of his illness, we were not aware of his complaints, we were not aware that he was intentionally being put under significant psychological pressure whilst in the prison by the prison staff, under orders from investigators. In Russia, this close interaction between investigators and prison administrators is common in “frame-up” and high-profile cases.

Butyrka Prison Photo: Wikimedia

Magnitsky’s attorneys did not ask us for help. Maybe they did not know that the law permits human rights defenders to visit prisoners. We only learned about what had happened to Sergei Magnitsky in prison when his attorney’s published Magnitsky’s complaints almost a year after his death.  From these complaints we learned what hell on earth Magnitsky had gone through in the prison. We learned about the unprecedented psychological pressure on him: that he was placed into the worst cells – cold and with broken and unreliable bath and toilet equipment, he was placed into cells with mentally ill inmates, he was transferred from one cell to another. This kind of treatment is commonly administered in order to “break” the person in question in order to get them to give the required testimony.

magnitsky-written

A complaint hand written by Sergei Magnitsky while in prison.

Later, together with other human rights defenders we carried out a public investigation of Magnitsky’s death.  Having interviewed dozens of prison employees, doctors and Magnitsky’s inmates, I realized that the unbearable living conditions in the prison were not accidental. Magnitsky may not have been killed deliberately, but the violation of his right to life resulted in his death.

In Russia, this close interaction between investigators and prison administrators is common in “frame-up” and high-profile cases.

These are the reasons for my indignation about Andrey Nekrasov’s film. The purpose of this film is to question the fact that Sergei Magnitsky was a victim of the Russian law enforcement and penitentiary systems. Andrei Nekrasov tries to frame William Browder, CEO of Heritage Capital, for whom Magnitsky worked (and who is one of Vladimir Putin’s key enemies today), stating in his film that Mr. Browder deceived not only Western and American public opinion and Western and American reporters, but also European and American politicians, by presenting Sergei Magnitsky as a whistleblower on corruption. Mr. Nekrasov argues that Mr. Magnitsky was not a whistleblower on corruption. I am not Browder’s attorney. But I am, first and foremost, defending the memory of Sergei Magnitsky.

 

Filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov promoting “Magnitsky Act” on Russian State Propaganda Channel RT

I believe that Mr. Browder made a mistake trying to ban Nekrasov’s film. I am sure that the European and American public are capable of distinguishing a good film from a propaganda film. A film which is quasi-investigation based using information and interviews received from one side only – the side of Magnitsky’s and Browder’s opponents – whose investigators and attorneys are working for Russian law-enforcement bodies. During his work on the film Mr. Nekrasov never asked for comments from us, the human rights defenders who had dealt with Magnitsky’s case and who had written an independent report which was presented to the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev in 2010.

During his work on the film Mr. Nekrasov never asked for comments from us, the human rights defenders who had dealt with Magnitsky’s case and who had written an independent report which was presented to the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev in 2010.

Mr. Nekrasov was not interested in the part of the Magnitsky case that related to the defence of human rights. He was not troubled by the fact that the Russian Investigation Commission made a farce of the death investigation and – as so often happens with the Russian justice system – the perpetrators have not been found and sentenced. On the contrary, Sergei Magnitsky himself was convicted, posthumously, by the Russian court in violation of Russian laws. As a result of this purely propagandistic court process, called by many reporters a “medieval process over a dead body”, similar to the case of Oliver Cromwell, whose corpse in the XVII century was exhumed and then hung and beheaded. Magnitsky was found guilty of tax evasion, posthumously and his case was closed in view of his death.

William Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital, is not the only reason Magnitsky’s case has become well-known in Europe and the USA. It is notorious due to the hundreds of articles written by famous European and American reporters who, like us – Russian reporters and human rights defenders- were deeply moved by Magnitsky’s story: the story of a simple Russian lawyer, an auditor of a Western company, who tried to perform his duties honestly, who trusted in law and justice and who died in a Russian prison because of his unwillingness to come to terms with the people violating justice. He died in a Russian prison where thousands of prisoners not sentenced to death, die every year because of negligence and because of the incompetence of doctors, the failure to provide medical care and the barbaric detention conditions.

Russian officials really liked the film. It was approved by Yury Chaika, the Prosecutor General of Russia. We, the people living in Russia, knowing how the Russian authoritarian regime manipulates justice to serve its interests, consider the approval of the film by the Prosecutor General of Russia and by the famous Russian filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov (known for his closeness to Vladimir Putin), as provoking questions and suspicions that the film represents a propagandist effort to place in doubt, Sergei Magnitsky’s story as a victim of the Russian justice system. To the contrary, the film seeks to represent Magnitsky and Mr. Browder as criminals who robbed Russia.

We have already witnessed similar efforts on Russian State TV, which is a massive propaganda machine today.

It is a shame that Andrey Nekrasov, who had left Russia a long time ago, has for some reason, that is far from being truth seeking, taken the side of the Russian propaganda and Russian security forces thus exiling himself from the Russian opposition.

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