Russian prisoner who died in custody told to sleep standing up

Russian prisoner who died in custody told to sleep standing up
# 04 May 2010 17:36 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, today ordered an urgent inquiry into why a prisoner who died last week in custody was refused medical treatment – with doctors advising her to sleep "standing up", APA reports quoting website.
Medvedev said criminal charges would be brought against investigators who permitted the death of Vera Trifonova, a 53-year-old businesswoman. She was arrested last December and locked up in Moscow’s notorious Matrosskaya Tishina pre-trial detention centre.
Trifonova died on Friday, despite repeated requests for her release on medical grounds. She had been suffering from severe diabetes and kidney failure. She was nearly blind and able to breathe with only one lung. When she complained of breathlessness, doctors advised her to sleep "standing up".
The case is a further embarrassment for Medvedev, whose attempts to reform Russia’s callously outmoded penal system have so far had little effect.
It follows the death in the same detention centre last November of Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer working for Hermitage Capital, the asset management fund.
Hermitage accused the interior ministry of defrauding the company of $230m (£152m) in a large-scale tax scam involving 60 senior Russian officials.
The same officials then arrested Magnitsky and kept him in prison for nearly a year without charge. He died after he was refused treatment for an acute embolism.
Medvedev issued guidelines that defendants accused of economic crimes should automatically be given bail.
Prosecutors claim Trifonova, who ran a successful real estate business, tried to sell a seat in Russia’s upper chamber federation council for $1.5m. Trifonova dismissed the charge as ludicrous.
In a stinging editorial, the business daily Vedomosti dubbed Trifonova’s prison ordeal "slow torture".
"We are not just talking about subtle mockery here but torment," the paper said. It noted she was so ill at the time of her arrest she was using a wheelchair.
"She became my client in March and when I visited her in jail her eyesight was about 10% and her lungs were full of liquid and she couldn’t sleep," her lawyer, Vladimir Zherebyonkov, told the Moscow Times.
"She told me that in response to her complaints, prison doctors recommended to her to sleep standing."
Medvedev today ordered criminal charges to be brought against Sergei Pysin, the chief investigator in the case. Pysin opposed Trifonova’s numerous petitions for bail.
On 6 April he told a court that her medical condition had "stabilised", citing doctors’ reports. Two other investigators were also disciplined.
But it remains doubtful whether any serious punishment will follow. So far nobody has been prosecuted in connection with Magnitsky’s death.
"An innocent man who had uncovered corruption was killed with the involvement of officials he implicated. People are now rising to demand that the individuals behind Sergei’s murder be punished," William Browder, Hermitage’s London-based CEO, said today.
The Magnitsky case threatens to heap further PR damage on Russia this week when it is debated at the US congressional Tom Lantos human rights commission.
Last week Benjamin Cardin, a Democratic senator, called on the state department to deny US visas to more than 60 Russian officials allegedly involved in Magnitsky’s death.
The list includes Russia’s deputy interior minister Alexei Anichin, deputy general prosecutor Victor Grin, and other senior law enforcement officials and judges.
"These visa sanctions will send an important message to corrupt officials in Russia and elsewhere, that the United States is serious about combating foreign corruption and the harm it does," Cardin told the US senate committee on foreign relations.
It seems unlikely, however, that Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, will heed Cardin’s call. Any visa ban against top Russian government bureaucrats would imperil the tentative improvement in relations between Washington and Moscow. It would also almost certainly prompt swift retaliatory action from the Kremlin.
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