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Politics Canada urged to impose sanctions on 16 Russian officials following report detailing increase in political prisoners

Parliamentarians and human-rights advocates are caling for sanctions on 16 Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, seen here in September, 2017, following the release of a 290-page report.

Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Parliamentarians in Canada and international human-rights advocates are urging Ottawa to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions on more than a dozen senior Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, who they say are complicit in an increasing crackdown on political prisoners.

The call for sanctions comes after the release of a new report detailing the alleged involvement of 16 senior Russian officials, including several ministers, security officials and judges, in a dramatic six-fold increase in the number of political prisoners in Russia over the past four years. The 290-page report, written by a Washington-based public-interest law firm, says Canada and other Western countries should investigate and consider imposing Magnitsky sanctions on the alleged human-rights abusers.

The Magnitsky law is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax lawyer who was beaten to death by Moscow prison staff in 2009 after accusing Russian officials of theft.

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“Canada has really been a leading light around the world in holding gross human-rights abusers accountable under your Magnitsky law. The people of Russia, who are of course now close to 300 political prisoners, desperately need the support of Canada, the United Nations, governments all over the world,” said Jared Genser, managing director of Perseus Strategies, the law firm that prepared the report.

Canada has already targeted one of the officials identified in the report – Alexander Bastrykin, chairman of the Investigative Committee of Russia, whose primary responsibility is criminal investigations – with Magnitsky sanctions. Some of the other Russian officials identified in the report – including Russian Federal Security Service director Alexander Bortnikov, Security Council of Russia secretary Nikolai Patrushev and lawmaker Natalia Poklonskaya – are targeted by other Canadian sanction laws.

The Special Economic Measures Act allows the government to impose levies on foreign jurisdictions and people who it believes were involved in a grave breach of international peace and security that is likely to result in a serious international crisis.

The Magnitsky legislation, on the other hand, is designed to target individual human-rights abusers.

Irwin Cotler, an international human-rights lawyer and former Liberal justice minister, said it is critical that Canada use Magnitsky-style sanctions against the identified Russian officials.

“We’re not sanctioning a government. We’re not sanctioning a country. We’re sanctioning individuals who are expressly and clearly complicit in the criminality,“ Mr. Cotler said. “It holds specific Kremlin officials accountable.”

Speaking to reporters in Montreal Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government will study the report.

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“Speaking out about human rights around the world is a priority for our foreign policy, even when speaking out comes at a price,” Ms. Freeland said. “We have imposed Magnitsky sanctions on an extensive list of Russian officials and we are constantly reviewing our Magnitsky sanctions."

Conservative MP James Bezan said his party will write a letter to Ms. Freeland asking her to consider the sanctions.

“The kleptocrats in the Kremlin, those that are abusing their positions of power and authority, cannot get away with it,” Mr. Bezan said.

The report also details the cases of the nearly 300 political prisoners in Russia, including high-profile opposition figures, Ukrainian activists, journalists, religious minorities and members of the LGBT community. Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian democracy activist who has survived two severe poisonings over his advocacy work, said the number of political prisoners is growing by the day.

Mr. Kara-Murza cited the recent arrest of Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, who was placed under house arrest in Moscow Saturday while authorities look into alleged drug peddling. Mr. Golunov’s lawyer said he believed police had planted the drugs on his client to frame him. Mr. Kara-Murza described how hundreds of Russian citizens publicly protested Mr. Golunov’s arrest in Moscow on the weekend – a demonstration of the growing frustration with the Putin regime inside Russia.

“Too often Western politicians, analysts and journalists confuse the Kremlin with Russia,” Mr. Kara-Murza said. “This is not Russia. Russia is so much bigger, so much wider and so much better than those few crooks and criminals.”

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With a report from Reuters

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