Play puts Russian justice system in dock over lawyer's death

Fri Feb 15, 2013 9:06am EST
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By Gabriela Baczynska

MOSCOW (Reuters) - In a poorly lit basement theatre in central Moscow, actors play out a symbolic trial of Russia's justice system over its failure to protect an anti-corruption lawyer who died in custody.

Without costumes or a set, the actors in "One Hour and Eighteen Minutes" take on the roles of judges, an investigator, doctor and medical assistants, reciting lines cobbled together from legal documents, media and public pronouncements on the case of Sergei Magnitsky.

His death in 2009, while awaiting trial on charges of tax evasion and fraud, has outraged human rights campaigners who see it as an example of arbitrary justice in Russia, and contributed to a rift in U.S.-Russian relations.

A nervous giggle runs through the audience, perched on wooden chairs and benches, when an actor playing a judge says that the justice system is the only thing that is still working in Russia.

The audience is visibly taken aback when a second judge, who prolonged Magnitsky's detention four days before his death, dismisses accusations of acting inhumanly when she says the judge's role is not to act like a human being but as an executor of the state's authority.

"The most horrifying moment for me was this judge saying she is not a human because she is a judge. This is very frankly put and how things really are," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a veteran Russian human rights campaigner.

"Nowadays, theatre based on documents, on real life here, is more telling and, unfortunately, more scary than thrillers."

No one has been convicted over the death of Magnitsky, who was arrested after accusing Russian police of stealing $230 million from the state in 2007 through fraudulent tax refunds.   Continued...

Friends and relatives take part in the funeral ceremony of Sergei Magnitsky at a cemetery in Moscow November 20, 2009. REUTERS/Mikhail Voskresensky