8-30-2012By Christopher Plummer and Tim Janas
Last week, Russia became a full-fledged member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), completing a 19-year “long and winding” saga that began under President Yeltsin. With Russia’s accession to the WTO, the only fellow member that remains at a trade disadvantage with Russia now is the United States, which has yet to repeal the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and officially establish permanent trade relations with Russia.
The Obama Administration welcomed Russia’s WTO accession this week and urged Congress to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Even so, there are still signs that it may not come up for a vote when Congress returns next month. The hold-up is mostly due to disagreements over the details of another bill, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012. That bill would establish visa bans and assets freezes on individuals responsible for gross violations of human rights in Russia.
In effect, Congress is avoiding this vote and decisive action on human rights policy in Russia because it doesn’t want to “reward” the Kremlin, which continues to undermine the basic human rights of its citizens. It is still unclear whether the Magnistky Act, when passed, will include sanctions on all human rights violators globally, and it also remains unclear what criteria is used to place an individual’s name on the State Department’s visa ban list. Various types of human rights violations are already listed in the Magnitsky Act.
The following fact sheet lists all individuals affected by the lack of rule of law in Russia who are specifically named in the bill—painting a horrifying picture of unsolved murders and beatings, torture and politically motivated imprisonment in Vladimir Putin’s country.
- Nustap Abdurakhmanov, Akhmed Hadjimagomedov, and Saihadji Saihadjiev. Three Muslim scholars who were kidnapped and then murdered in Dagestan in October 2008. Local residents witnessed law enforcement officials abducting the men. Mr. Saihadjiev’s family later obtained his body, discovering signs of severe torture. There was never an indication that authorities were investigating the abduction and murders, and as of 2010 there have been no developments in the case.
- Maksharip Aushev. A prominent dissident in Russia’s Ingushetia province, Mr. Aushev was gunned down when his car was riddled with more than 60 bullets on October 25, 2009. A community business leader, Mr. Aushev led mass protests against an indiscriminate campaign of abductions, torture, and killings, which he believed were carried out by security forces in Ingushetia. The dissident was particularly suspicious of the Federal Security Service (FSB), as well as local police under the direct command of Ramzan Kadyrov, the President of Chechnya and longtime ally of the Kremlin.
- Natalya Estemirova. On July 15, 2009, Natalya Estemirova was kidnapped from outside of her home only to be found days later, ruthlessly executed on the side of a highway. For over a decade Ms. Estemirova had documented kidnappings and killings in Chechnya, implicating Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov in ordering violent and repressive acts.
- Ali and Umar Israilov. A bodyguard-turned-critic of President Kadyrov, Umar Israilov accused Mr. Kadyrov of ordering kidnappings and torture. After filing a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights detailing systematic abductions and torture Chechen security forces, Umar Israilov sought asylum in Austria. Israilov’s father, Ali, was detained and tortured following his son’s emigration in efforts to force his return. Umar Israilov was fatally shot outside of a local grocery in Austria store by four unknown men.
- Paul Klebnikov: Founding editor of Forbes Russia, and outspoken critic of the Russian oligarchs, Paul Klebnikov was gunned down on July 9, 2004, as he left his office in Moscow. Mr. Khlebnikov’s highly critical investigative reports about the wealthy and powerful attracted much public attention and were the likely cause of the contract killing. Attempts to bring those responsible to justice have so far only led to mistrials.
- Anna Politkovskaya. Renowned journalist and Kremlin critic, Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead while entering her apartment building on October 7, 2006. Ms. Politkovskaya rose to prominence for her in-depth coverage of the war in Chechnya, exposing incidents of torture, mass executions, kidnappings, and war crimes. Four individuals initially accused of killing Anna Politkovskaya were found not guilty, and no light has been shed on the true architect of the murder.
- Magomed Y. Yevloyev. Magomed Yevloyev ran a website critical of regional authorities in Ingushetia. In August 2008, Mr. Yevloyev was arrested at the local airport and shot in the head while in custody. Local authorities blamed the incident on the deceased, claiming that Mr. Yevloyev made an attempt to seize a policeman’s sidearm.
Death in Custody
- Vera Trifonova. A prominent real estate magnate, Vera Trifonova died in state custody due to heart failure brought on by lack of medical attention. Accused of conspiring with a senator to broker an illegal deal for a seat in Russia’s upper house of Parliament, Ms. Trifonova’s legal team was repeatedly denied the request to change her pretrial restrictions in order to take care of her medical issues. Following her death, then-President Medvedev investigated the official negligence, leading to several investigators’ employment being terminated.
- Sergei Magnitsky. Employed by the Moscow-based law firm Firestone Duncan representing a UK investment powerhouse Hermitage Capital, Mr. Magnitsky was imprisoned in November 2008 and held without trial at the infamous Butyrka prison for 11 months. According to Hermitage Capital, Mr. Magnitsky had unveiled a record $230 million fraud allegedly perpetrated by tax authorities in conspiracy with security forces and government officials. While in custody, he was beaten and consistently denied medical attention. Sergei Magnitsky died in prison on November 16, 2009.
- Mokhmadsalakh Masaev. Mokhmadsalakh Masaev was last seen on August 3, 2008, when according to friends and family he was forced into a van by kidnappers. Two years prior Mr. Masaev had been detained and tortured out of suspicion of being a collaborator with insurgents in his homeland of Chechnya. Never officially charged, Mokhmadsalakh Masaev was released and spoke publicly about his treatment and the cruelty of Chechen security forces.
- Said-Saleh Ibragimov. Said-Saleh Ibragimov worked in for the Chechen Ministry of Interior as part of a team concerned with oil and petroleum interests. Detained with colleagues and his uncle in 2009, Mr. Ibragimov has never been seen again.
- Islam Umarpashaev. Refusing to confess to charges of terrorism to Chechen police, Islam Umarpashaev was detained and tortured for four months. Kept in a basement and chained to a radiator, interrogators had allegedly beat, pistol-whipped, and electrocuted him, threatening to stage a counterterrorism operation in which he would be framed as a terrorist and murdered. With the help of Amnesty International, Umarpashaev has succeeded in forcing an investigation into his ordeal.
- Mikhail Beketov. Mikhail Beketov is a Russian journalist who exposed corruption in the scheme to deforest large swaths of the Khimki Forest in order to construct a major highway connecting Moscow and St. Petersburg. After surviving a failed attempt on his life in a car bombing, Mr. Beketov was nearly beaten to death by unknown assailants in November 2008, leading to the amputation of his right leg and permanent damage to his throat. His attackers were never brought to justice, while he was sued for libel by the recently departed mayor of Khimki.
- Oleg Kashin. Renowned journalist and outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, Kommersant’s Oleg Kashin was hospitalized following a vicious assault by unknown attackers near his apartment building in Moscow in November 2010. At the time, Kashin had been reporting on the corruption surrounding the construction of a major highway in Khimki forest, on the political protests, and on the pro-Kremlin Nashi movement. Then-President Medvedev took personal interest in the case, but despite his urgings attackers remain at large.
- Arkadiy Lander. In spring 2010, Arkadiy Lander began publishing a free newspaper that covered municipal elections in Sochi from the perspective of the opposition. In late April, Lander was brutally beaten with steel rods in his home as he returned from a local grocery store. Attempts to investigate have proved fruitless, and his assailants have yet to be brought to justice.
- Mikhail Vinyukov. One of several victims of a string of assaults against dissidents in the 2014 Olympic host city of Sochi and its surrounding villages, Mikhail Vinyukov exposed bribery and corruption in local politics. On October 25, 2010, Mr. Vinyukov was beaten with metal bars by two unidentified men. Fellow activists are confident that the beating was connected to Mr. Vinyukov’s work.
- Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. Once one of the richest men in the world, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 and convicted of fraud in a trial that many viewed as politically motivated and lacking evidence. years into his prison sentence, Mr. Khodorkovsky was again charged and convicted, this time for embezzlement, extending his sentence to 2017. While other executives and shareholders of Russia’s then-largest oil company run by Mikhail Khodorkovsky were also sent to prison, his associate and business partner Platon Lebedev stood trial alongside the famous oligarch and was also sentenced twice, for tax evasion and money laundering. Mr. Lebedev’s sentence was recently shortened, and he can be released as early as February 2013.
- Alexei Kozlov. Alexei Kozlov was convicted in 2008 of economic crimes that many believe were manufactured out of political revenge. Prior to his sentencing, Mr. Kozlov’s wife had publicly criticized the Putin regime. Although briefly released in 2011 following the Russian Supreme Court call for a retrial, authorities once again arrested and convicted Alexei Kozlov on the same charges.
- Fyodor Mikheev. Fyodor Mikheev, Deputy Director of a trading company, testified he was kidnapped by police who tried to extort $20 million from his boss Alexander Bessonov. Though the officers were caught in the act of holding Mikheev for ransom, but the court dropped all charges against them. Instead, Fyodor Mikheev was later charged with economic crimes associated with his firm’s business loans. He was convicted shortly and is now serving eleven years in prison.