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What Is the Magnitsky Act? How Does It Apply to the Missing Saudi Journalist?

by Countable | 10.12.18

What's the story?

  • 11 members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Wednesday, demanding an investigation into the disappearance of journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggiand to enforce sanctions against his alleged attackers.
  • Khashoggi disappeared last week after visiting the country's consulate in Turkey. Turkish officials believe Khashoggi was murdered inside the consulate; the Saudis deny this claim, but have not been able to provide any proof he safely left the building.
  • The Foreign Relations Committee letter requests an investigation under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act , which requires the president to give a report to Congress within 120 days on whether to impose the requested sanctions.

What is the Magnitsky Act?

  • The bipartisan legislation — enacted in 2012 — sanctioned Russians connected to the death of Sergei Magnitsky or responsible for killings, torture, and human rights violations against people exposing illegal activity by the Russian government. Sanctioned individuals are ineligible for entry to the U.S. under the law, which also freezes the person’s financial and property assets in the country.
  • Sergei Magnitsky was an auditor investigating tax fraud by Russian government officials who was imprisoned and denied medical treatment for chronic conditions for months before being beaten to death by officers of Russia’s interior ministry.

What has its impact been?

  • Since the first sanctions were meted out by the Treasury Department in April 2013 against 18 people connected to the deaths of Magnitsky and others, the Russian government has pushed back against the law.
  • Among the retaliatory steps the Russian government has taken since the Magnitsky Act was enacted are passing a law denying adoptions of Russian children by Americans and issuing a "Guantanamo list" of U.S. officials prohibited from entering Russia. It also has continued to lobby for the law’s repeal through people like Veselnitskaya.
  • But they don’t seem to be enjoying much success in that effort at the moment. In December 2016, the Magnitsky Act was expanded to apply to human rights abusers globally when Congress tacked it on as an amendment to the annual defense authorization, after the Senate passed such a global expansion as a standalone bill in 2017.

What do you think?

Tell your reps whether you think of the Magnitsky Act and its global expansion: Should it be enhanced further, or repealed?

—Josh Herman & Eric Revell


(Photo Credit: The Associated Press)

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