14 December 2012, 11:04

Russian Lawmakers Back Retaliation in US Rights Row

Russian Lawmakers Back Retaliation in US Rights Row

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia's lower house of parliament on Friday gave initial backing to a bill that would blacklist Americans in retaliation for punitive U.S. legislation passed after a Russian lawyer died of untreated illness while in pre-trial detention.

The State Duma overwhelmingly passed the bill proposing to punish individuals "implicated in violations of rights of Russian citizens" with bans on entering Russia and asset freezes.

In the first of three readings, 431 lawmakers voted for and two against. Once passed by the Duma and the upper house the Federation Council, the bill will need to be signed by President Vladimir Putin to become law.

The Duma bill was instantly drafted after the U.S. Congress last week passed the so-called Magnitsky Act, which blacklists officials considered tied to the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer who claimed to have uncovered massive fraud by Russian interior ministry officials.

The U.S. bill, which is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama later Friday, was branded as a "purely political, unfriendly act" by Putin, who Thursday welcomed the Duma's initiative to retaliate.

While initial discussion in Moscow revolved around sanctioning U.S. officials implicated in the controversial Guantanamo prison or torture, deputies later decided to switch focus to Russian children abused on American soil.

"There has been an increase in cases when Russian citizens outside of Russia face illegal actions. This is especially hard to ignore when we speak of the children," said United Russia ruling party deputy Vladimir Pligin.

"Our measure can be seen as a step toward some sort of justice," he said as he presented the bill to the floor.

One United Russia deputy has already dubbed the legislation the "Dima Yakovlev Bill" in honour of a two-year-old Russian boy who died of heat stroke in 2008 after his adoptive American father forgot him in a car in summer heat.

The father was controversially acquitted of involuntary manslaughter by a county judge in Virginia, a decision that was slammed by Moscow and eventually led to a new U.S.-Russia adoption law which gave Russia more oversight on the process.

Russian lawmakers speaking during the debate on the proposed legislation dipped in Cold War rhetoric and branded the case of Magnitsky, who died from untreated illnesses, as only a "pretext" for anti-Russian policy.

"We see now that the (American) good guys are really hungry wolves looking for nothing but concessions," Communist deputy Pavel Dorokhin said. "Everyone understands that the times when we played along with the Americans are over."

The Russian legislation, titled "measures to influence individuals implicated in violation of Russian citizens' rights", lists as punishment for U.S. citizens entry bans, seizing of their assets, and banning the work of any businesses they might own.

The blacklist will also include judicial officials who handed out "baseless and unfair" verdicts on Russians. The blacklist will be kept by the Russian foreign ministry, the bill says.

All four parties in the Duma sponsored the legislation, in what United Russia has said shows that all of Russian society supports it.

It is expected to be passed by the end of the year.

However several opposition deputies said on their blogs that they were not given the floor and criticized the bill as inconsistent and detrimental to Russian investors.

Opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta branded the legislation "the most disgraceful in the entire history of the Duma's lawmaking."

"Usually it is terrorists and total scum who cover up adult disagreements with children," it said Friday.

"The polemics around the Magnitsky list have boiled down to the ultimatum: if you don't give us access to our money in (your) banks, we won't give you our orphans."

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