A draft bill targeting Americans alleged to have violated Russians’ human rights was introduced in the Russian parliament on Monday, the law being an emotional but not necessarily efficient response to the US Magnitsky Act.
The bill would see alleged US rights abusers blacklisted for Russian entry, their assets in Russia seized and operations of their companies suspended.
The bill would be passed in the required three readings by the end of the Duma’s fall session on Dec. 21, a spokesman for the chamber’s administration said on Monday.
The document will then have to be approved by the upper chamber, the Federation Council, which said it would do it by the year’s end.
It will finally have to be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, who did not comment on the matter on Monday.
Last Thursday, the US Senate approved the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which blacklists for entry and freezes assets of dozens of Russian officials implicated in the death of whistleblowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009.
Magnitsky was arrested on tax fraud charges after accusing a group of Russian officials of embezzling $230 million of state money. He died after 11 months in pretrial detention. His death was officially blamed on his health problems, but the Kremlin’s own human rights council said in 2011 that he was severely beaten hours before dying, and Magnitsky’s supporters claim the case against him was fabricated in revenge for his exposes.
No officials have been prosecuted so far over Magnitsky’s death.
The four Duma factions shared a "unified patriotic position” on the Magnitsky Act, head of United Russia’s faction, Vladimir Vasilyev, said on Monday.
All faction heads denounced the Magnitsky Act, saying it was biased, politicized and an intervention in Russia’s internal affairs. Sergei Mironov, the head of the mildly oppositional A Just Russia, also said it went against the basic judicial principle of presumption of innocence.
"It’s amazing that a country that created abroad undercover prisons where lawlessness runs rampant and inmates are subject to torture like in the Middle Ages is now preaching to other countries,” Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin, a member of the ruling United Russia, said about the Magnitsky Act.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the Magnitsky Act on Monday an "anti-Russian escapade” passed under a "cynical pretext.”
The legislators did not name any actual people targeted by the bill. Russia’s children ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said it should cover US families who abused Russian children that they have adopted.
At least 19 Russian adoptees killed by their adoptive parents in the United States since adoptions started in the early 1990s, Astakhov said. Several abuse cases made headlines in Russia over the past years, prompting a temporary moratorium on adoptions by Americans and an overhaul of the adoption system.
But none of the people accused of abusing Russian orphans are known to own any assets in Russia or to have traveled to the country after their cases became public. About 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by American parents since 1993.
Russia’s own track record on children’s rights is less than spectacular: in the first nine months of 2012, 428 children were killed and about 3,000 sexually abused in Russia, according to the Investigative Committee. About 82,000 Russian children were orphaned in Russia over 2011, Astakhov said in October.
The Duma bill is Russia’s "symmetric response,” but a "non-symmetric” one, promised by Lavrov earlier, may prove more efficient. Russia halted US meat imports, which amounted to $450 million between January and September, immediately after Congressional passage of the Magnitsky Act.
The head of the Federal Consumer Protection Service, Gennady Onishchenko, denied any political subtext to the ban, but his watchdog has been regularly accused of wielding its powers for political ends, banning Georgian, Moldavian and Estonian exports at times when Moscow had diplomatic conflicts with those countries.
Bilateral US-Russian trade stood at $22 billion in the first nine months of this year, according to Russia’s Federal Customs Service.