One Hour and Eighteen Minutes

With the wave of oligarchs that continue to flock to London to battle out their grievances, sadly embezzlement scandals and corruption are associations we regularly make with Russia nowadays.

With the wave of oligarchs that continue to flock to London to battle out their grievances, sadly embezzlement scandals and corruption are associations we regularly make with Russia nowadays.

As Russia's recent accession to the WTO has brought corruption in the country under renewed scrutiny, a play showing at London's New Diorama Theatre has also shed new light on the lesser-known aspects of the Russian judicial system.

One Hour and Eighteen Minutes, written by Elena Gremina and translated by Noah Birksted-Breen looks at the run-up to the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison cell in 2009, having been arrested after he stumbled across a cover-up by state officials to embezzle an estimated $230m (£146m) from the Russian treasury.

The timing of the play couldn't be more poignant since on Friday 16 November the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, which will impose visa sanctions and asset freezes on 60 Russian officials implicated in Magnitksy's death.

At the same time the House of Representatives also voted in favour of a law to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR), which will repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974, a hangover from Cold War times when the US decided to prevent a number of countries that restricted the emigration of their citizens from enjoying PNTR.

The US House Ways and Means Committee approved both laws in July, but the House of Representatives' vote was postponed in August for a range of unclear and arguably inexplicable reasons.

The vote finally took place just under two weeks ago on what was, ironically, the third anniversary of Magnitsky's death. The next steps will see the bills being brought before the Senate before receiving final approval from president Obama himself.

While the process continues to provoke controversy in the US, it's hoped that the staging of One Hour and Eighteen Minutes here in London for the first time will help remind the UK government of the severity of the situation and its own responsibility to make the bill law.

Bill Browder, the founder of Hermitage Capital, Magnitsky's client at the time of his arrest, has played an instrumental role in bringing Magnitsky's case to the US and believes the UK may be next to act. "The UK has been waiting for the US and I believe the law being passed in the US will create a domino effect around the world and the sanctions will also be brought in Europe," he said. Asides from the UK, Browder also has plans to bring his campaign to Canada and Ireland in the near future.

There has already been some progress here. Conservative MP Dominic Raab sponsored a parliamentary motion earlier this year for the UK to introduce its own version of the Magnitsky Act. The motion was backed by five former foreign ministers and received unanimous approval from the House of Commons. However, in September the Foreign & Commonwealth Office strongly denied reports that it had already introduced a blacklist naming and shaming the 60 Russian officials that Browder believes were complicit in Magnitsky's torture and death before he even had the chance to stand trial.

In the meantime, politicians in the UK would do well to see Gremina's play, which documents the torturous hour and eighteen minutes that Magnitsky was denied treatment in prison before finally dying of pancreatitis. Making the most of using testimony from Magnitsky's family, his colleagues, prison staff and even the judge who presided over his case, the play sheds light on the vagaries of the Russian judicial system and the human rights abuses that continue to go unpunished in the country.

The play's closing footage shows Magnitsky as a family man with a strong group of family and friends at his side. Even three years on, the support couldn't be stronger and it's hoped that those involved in his death will soon be finally brought to justice.


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