A growing number of Kremlin critics are urging the Obama administration to use a 2012 law that freezes the assets of Russian citizens and officials directly responsible for human rights violations and bans them from entering the U.S. to punish those behind the country’s ongoing anti-gay crackdown.
Gay journalist Jamie Kirchick and András Simonyi, the former Hungarian Ambassador to the U.S. who is the managing director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Transatlantic Relations in D.C., on Dec. 4 urged the White House to use the Magnitsky Act named in honor of the eponymous Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after authorities arrested him following his investigation into a $230 million tax fraud scheme. The two men specifically called for the Obama administration to add Yelena Mizulina, the Russian lawmaker who sponsored a bill that bans gay propaganda to minors that President Vladimir Putin signed into law in June, to the list of 18 Russian nationals and officials against whom the Magnitsky Act is already applied.
Kirchick and Simonyi also urged the White House to add Vitaly Milonov, sponsor of St. Petersburg’s 2012 gay propaganda ban, Alexei Trifonov of the Center for Combating Extremism in Nizhny Novgorod and Maxim Martsinkevich of the “Occupy Pedophilia” vigilante group to the list of those banned from entering the United States under the 2012 law.
The deadline to submit the four additional names to the administration was Dec. 14. The White House is expected to announce shortly whether it would add them to the Magnitsky Act.
“Activists in the West have been right to raise alarm bells about the Russian government’s inhumane policies, yet their response to the problem has thus far been scattershot and ineffective,” wrote Kirchick and Simonyi in their Dec. 4 brief. “For those hoping to put a swift end to this ignominious crusade targeting a vulnerable minority, the Magnitsky Act shows a way forward.”
Kirchick and Simonyi further discussed expanding the Magnitsky Act during a panel on Russia’s LGBT rights record that took place at Johns Hopkins University in Northwest Washington on Dec. 6.
Kirchick, who challenged Russia’s LGBT rights record during an interview on the pro-Kremlin television station RT in August before producers took him off the air, discussed calls to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February. He questioned those who called for a boycott of Stoli and other Russian vodka brands over the summer.
“There have been very well-intentioned, but in my opinion totally ineffective protests,” said Kirchick. “There already exists a law on the books that is very effective that we can use.”
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who sponsored the Magnitsky Act, backs efforts to expand the list to include Russian officials and individuals directly responsible for the country’s ongoing LGBT rights crackdown.
“The Magnitsky Act can be used against those who violate the human rights of LGBT Russians or anyone else for that matter,” Cardin told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “The law was written to be inclusive and not limited. We continue to seek ways that it can be broadened further.”
Larry Poltavtsev of Spectrum Human Rights, an organization that promotes global LGBT rights, also supports adding Milonov and others to the Magnitsky Act list. A petition his group launched on Change.org earlier this year in support of the move has more than 12,000 signatures.
“The Magnitsky Law must be applied more liberally to all human rights violators, including LGBT rights violators,” Poltavtsev told the Blade on Tuesday. “It’s the only instrument that we have if we really want to change the situation in Russia.”
Lesbian Russian journalist Masha Gessen noted during Human Rights First’s annual summit in D.C. on Dec. 5 that the Kremlin banned U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children less than a week after Obama signed the Magnitsky Act into law.
“It had a huge psychological and symbolic impact on people in Russia, including LGBT organizations,” she said.
Gessen added Russian LGBT advocacy organizations are “probably not going to speak out in support” of any effort to add additional officials to the Magnitsky Act list. She nevertheless said she supports the proposed travel ban and asset freeze of those behind Russia’s ongoing gay crackdown.
“It needs to be done,” said Gessen. “It also needs to be done because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do to send a message to these Russian officials.”