A Crimean activist who says he survived two years of torture in Russian prisons is calling on the Canadian government to use all diplomatic means, including sanctions targeting corrupt Russian officials, to pressure the Putin government to halt its aggression against Ukraine and surrounding countries.
Hennadiy Afanasyev is in Ottawa this week meeting with members of Parliament and foreign-affairs officials. He says he will urge them to adopt a law sanctioning human-rights abusers around the world.
“We should use all diplomatic means in order to make Russia hear the world community, and make Russia stop its aggression against other countries and withdraw its armies from occupied territories. We should not rely only on diplomacy. If Russia continues its aggression we should be ready to show strength,” Mr. Afanasyev said in an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Afanasyev’s call for action comes two weeks after Mark Gwozdecky, Global Affairs Canada political director, met with Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov for talks on Ukraine and Syria. While Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion has urged all countries to uphold sanctions against Russia, Mr. Gwozdecky’s visit is raising opposition concerns that the federal government might do the opposite.
In Ottawa, Parliament is considering how it could adopt tougher sanctions aimed at human-rights abusers, including Russians.
Conservative bills in the House of Commons and Senate would establish a law modelled on the U.S. Magnisky Act, which freezes the assets of Russian human-rights abusers and bans their travel to the United States. The U.S. act is named after Russian whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky, who accused Russian officials of a massive tax-fraud regime before dying in a Moscow jail in 2009. Friends and family say he was beaten to death. Mr. Afanasyev’s visit to Ottawa Tuesday came on the seventh anniversary of Mr. Magnitsky’s death.
The Liberals promised during the 2015 federal election to adopt Magnitsky-like legislation, but the government has yet to do so. Mr. Dion has previously opposed adopting the legislation, saying Canada already has laws to deal with corrupt officials. But after significant lobbying from Russian human-rights defenders and former Liberal MPs, including Irwin Cotler and Bob Rae, the government allowed the House of Commons foreign affairs committee to take another look at the Magntisky Act provisions.
Mr. Afanasyev says it is critical that the West, including Canada, adopt Magnitsky-style sanctions before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime starts another “world war.”
“It is very important that Canada not just talk about democracy and human rights, but Canada do something for human rights,” Mr. Afanasyev said. “It’s very important to stop the enemy now, before it becomes more powerful.”
Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose echoed Mr. Afanasyev Tuesday in a statement marking the anniversary of Mr. Magnitsky’s death.
“On the anniversary of Sergei Magnitsky’s murder in a Russian prison, we urge the Liberal government, particularly Minister Dion, to remember their promise to human-rights advocates both in Canada and around the world: Support and pass the Magnitsky Law,” Ms. Ambrose said.
Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj, who is of Ukrainian descent, said he is hopeful his government will pass a Canadian version of the Magnitsky Act. He said something has to be done to bring justice to activists such as Mr. Afanasyev.
“How would Hennadiy feel walking the streets in one of our major cities and one of his torturers would be free to walk next to him?” Mr. Wrzesnewskyj. “Why would we not sanction these monsters?”
Mr. Afanasyev was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in the Crimean capital of Simferopol on May 9, 2014, during Victory Day celebrations. He had openly opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, 2014, and was known to act as a fixer for journalists covering the situation on the peninsula.
Following his initial detention, the 26-year-old spent 767 days in various Russian prisons.
In December, 2014, he was charged by a Russian court with terrorism and sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security prison. He was eventually freed in June, 2016, as a part of a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia.
Mr. Afanasyev now lives in Kiev and cannot return to his native Crimea because he is considered a terrorist there. He works as a special representative of Ukraine’s foreign minister, where he is responsible for helping to free other Ukrainians illegally imprisoned in Russia.
With files from the Canadian PressReport Typo/Error