- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
The trial of Russian lawyer and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky officially began yesterday, but has been postponed for several weeks. This was not, as one might expect, because Magnitsky died in prison more than three years ago, but because his defense team has chosen not to participate in the bizarre proceeding:
In Monday’s hearing, it was unclear who or what, exactly, went on trial. Mr. Magnitsky’s co-defendant, William F. Browder, the manager of the Hermitage Capital hedge fund, has been barred from entering Russia since 2005, so he did not appear in court.
The hearing was of a type in Russian practice that indicates that the police consider their work complete, and that the case can go to trial, Aleksandra V. Bereznina, a spokeswoman for Tverskoi Regional Court, said in an interview.
Judge Igor B. Alisov promptly postponed the trial because the defendants did not appear in the courtroom — as expected — but neither did lawyers representing their interests.[…]
The hearing took place in a closed courtroom. The defendants’ chairs were unoccupied, Ms. Bereznina said. Mr. Browder and relatives of Mr. Magnitsky have said they will boycott the proceedings.
Posthumous trials are nearly unheard of in modern law. The AP’s Jim Heintz has attempted a listicle of other examples, but the most recent is Hitler’s personal secretary Martin Borman, who was tried in absentia at Nuremberg but later turned out to have been dead at the time. The others are all macabre examples from centuries ago like the posthumous beheading of Oliver Cromwell and the infamous Cadaver Synod of 897.
Browder wrote about the case for FP last March.