UK Sanctions Russians, Saudis Under New Magnitsky Powers

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab arrives at 10 Downing Street in London on May 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

LONDON (AP) — Britain on Monday announced economic sanctions against individuals and organizations from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and North Korea under new U.K. powers to punish human rights offenders.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the sanctions targeted those behind “some of the notorious human rights violations in recent years.”

They include senior Saudi intelligence officials accused of involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and Russian authorities implicated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in a Moscow prison after exposing a tax fraud scheme involving Russian officials.

Also on the list of 49 individuals and organizations is Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces, and Myanmar army commander Soe Win. They are accused of orchestrating systematic violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.

North Korean organizations — the Ministry of State Security Bureau and the Ministry of People’s Security Correctional Bureau — were sanctioned for running prison camps in the authoritarian Communist state.

Britain has previously imposed sanctions as part of the European Union or under the auspices of the United Nations. Since leaving the EU in January, it has implemented its own version of the United States’ Magnitsky Act, which allows authorities to ban or seize assets of individuals guilty of human rights abuses.

Magnitsky, a tax consultant for British financier William Browder, died in prison of untreated illness in 2009 after accusing Russian officials of $230 million tax fraud. 

Russia has rejected the allegations, however, and tried Magnitsky posthumously, ultimately convicting him of fraud.

The U.K. law authorizes the British government to prevent sanctioned individuals from entering the country, channeling money through British banks, or profiting from the U.K. economy.

“You cannot set foot in this country, and we will seize your blood-drenched ill-gotten gains if you try,” Raab said as he announced the new sanctions.

Government and opposition lawmakers both welcomed the measures, though some questioned why no Chinese officials had been included, given Beijing’s new Hong Kong security law and repression in the western Xinjjang region. More than a million people in Xinjiang — from ethnic groups that include Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz — have been held in a vast network of detention centers.

Conservative lawmaker Tom Tugendhat, who heads the Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee, said there had been a “remarkable silence on human rights violations in China.”

Raab said more people would be added to the sanctions list, but he wouldn’t “preempt what the next wave of designations will be.”

Russia threatened to retaliate Monday, taking issue in particular with the UK’s sanctioning of its judges and the top directors of Russia’s Investigative Committee and General Prosecutor’s Office.

“In Russia, investigators, prosecutors and judges carry out their responsibilities independently of executive authorities and are guided by law alone,” the Russian embassy in London said in a statement.

Without elaborating, the embassy warned: “The Russian side reserves the right to take retaliatory measures in connection with Britain’s hostile decision.”

London has accused Russia of “destabilizing” activities including the 2018 chemical attack that almost killed former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

Russia has rejected accusations that officers from its GRU military intelligence agency used a powerful nerve agent to poison Skripal in retribution for his work with British and other Western spy services.

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