Russia hits back at the US in human rights bill row


Sun, Dec 16, 2012 - Page 7

Russia on Friday condemned US sanctions against officials implicated in the death of anti-graft lawyer Sergei Magnitsky as “dangerous” meddling and hit back with moves for a bill of its own blacklisting US citizens.

The bill, which grants normal trade relations with Russia, but also includes a blacklist of alleged human rights abusers, had angered Russian President Vladimir Putin and was signed into law on Friday by US President Barack Obama.

The Magnitsky Act amounts to “open meddling in our internal affairs and is a blind and dangerous position,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The lower house of parliament on Friday gave initial backing to a bill that would blacklist Americans in retaliation for the punitive legislation.

The State Duma overwhelmingly passed the bill proposing to punish individuals “implicated in violations of rights of Russian citizens” with bans on entering Russia and asset freezes.

In the first of three readings, 431 lawmakers voted for and two against. Once passed by the Duma and the upper house, the Federation Council, the bill will need to be signed by Putin to become law.

The Duma bill was instantly drafted after the US Congress last week passed the so-called Magnitsky Act, which blacklists officials considered tied to the 2009 death of Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer who claimed to have uncovered massive fraud by Russian interior ministry officials.

Magnitsky was held in pre-trial jail on fraud allegations when he died in 2009 of several untreated conditions.

The US bill was branded as a “purely political, unfriendly act” by Putin, who on Thursday welcomed the Duma’s initiative to retaliate.

While initial discussion in Moscow revolved around sanctioning US officials implicated in the controversial Guantanamo prison or torture, deputies later decided to switch focus to Russian children abused on US soil.

“There has been an increase in cases when Russian citizens outside of Russia face illegal actions. This is especially hard to ignore when we speak of the children,” ruling United Russia party deputy Vladimir Pligin said.

“Our measure can be seen as a step toward some sort of justice,” he said as he presented the bill to the floor.

One United Russia deputy has already dubbed the legislation the “Dima Yakovlev Bill” in honor of a two-year-old Russian boy who died of heat stroke in 2008 after his adoptive US father forgot him in a car in summer heat.

The father was controversially acquitted of involuntary manslaughter by a county judge in Virginia, a decision that was slammed by Moscow and led to a new law that gave Russia more oversight over the process.