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Is Russia trying a dead whistle-blower because of a US law?

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The Kremlin's incandescent response makes it likely that the mutual acrimony will expand in weeks to come. Mr. Putin called the Magnitsky Act a "purely political, unfriendly act" that demanded a stern riposte. Last week he signed the retaliatory Dima Yakovlev Act, whose key provision is a ban on all adoptions of Russian children by US citizens.

But in an apparent effort to overturn the widely-held Western narrative, which sees Magnitsky as the victim of corrupt officials and a lawless state, Russian prosecutors have announced they will put the deceased Magnitsky on trial later this month, seeking to prove that he and his former boss, Bill Browder, head of the London-based Hermitage Capital, were the real criminals.

The pending trial has been fiercely opposed by Magnitsky's mother – who will be required to stand in for her dead son – and lawyers, who argue that a posthumous trial is against Russian law in all cases except when a family asks the court to "rehabilitate" a victim of an unjust verdict (a common legacy of the Stalin era).

"We did not ask for this, and we do not think the deputy prosecutor had any right to revive Sergei's case after it was closed upon his death," says Natalia Magnitskaya, Magnitsky's mother.

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