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EU to blacklist nine Russians over jailing of dissident

  • Vladimir Kara-Murza (l) at the European Parliament in Brussels in 2017 (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)
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EU countries are preparing to blacklist nine Russians for jailing dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza, if Hungary backs down.

The draft list names Russian deputy justice minister Oleg Sviridenko, four Russian judges, a notorious prison chief, and three officials.

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  • Russian anti-corruption witness Sergei Magnitsky was killed in prison in 2009 (Photo: Hermitage Capital)

Sviridenko had "direct responsibility" for enforcing a Kremlin "foreign agents" list, which included Kara-Murza, said the EU document, dated 24 May and seen by EUobserver.

The Foreign Agents project was "at the centre of a wave of repressive laws cracking down on [hundreds of] independent civil society, media as well as dissenting individuals," the EU said.

This helped send Kara-Murza to a penal colony for 25 years in April — a de facto death sentence for the disabled Kremlin critic.

And two of the Russians on the draft EU blacklist were already involved in killing another high-profile Russian activist 15 years ago — Sergei Magnitsky.

Sergei Podoprigorov, one of Kara-Murza's judges, previously issued rulings against Magnitsky, who "was later persecuted and died in Russian prison," the draft EU sanctions said.

Dmitry Komon is currently head of the 'Vodnik' prison where Kara-Murza was being held, the EU said.

But Komon used to be "warden of 'Butyrka' pre-trial detention centre at a time when unbearable conditions led to the death of anti-corruption activist Sergei Magnitsky," the EU document added.

The 27 EU ambassadors will discuss the list in Brussels on Wednesday (31 May), diplomats said.

If approved, they will join an EU register of over 40 of the world's worst abusers, called a Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, which also covers Chinese officials and African warlords.

The Kara-Murza listings were due to get the green light a week ago, but Hungary issued a last-minute veto on the Russian deputy minister.

Its blockade was seen as putting extra pressure on the EU to force Ukraine to stop badmouthing a Hungarian bank.

It has also vetoed an 11th round of Russia sanctions and Ukraine arms deals in protest over the bank.

But its Kara-Murza gambit saw it hammered on moral as well as political grounds.

"The Hungarian government has made its affection for the Putin regime clear, but it is unacceptable when that position hijacks well thought out and moral EU policy," said 40 MEPs in a letter on 24 May, referring to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Hungarian diplomats like to keep Brussels-based EU colleagues and media in the dark.

When asked if Budapest was likely to cave on Kara-Murza on Wednesday, a non-Hungarian EU diplomat following the process said: "We'll see".

But the MEPs, who wrote to all 26 EU foreign ministers except Hungary's in a symbolic touch, had an alternative solution if it didn't.

"We call on the EU member states who already have Magnitsky Acts — the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — to use their existing legislation to sanction Vladimir Kara-Murza's Russian persecutors, since the EU legislation does not work," they said.

"We also call on other EU member sates to pass their own domestic Magnitsky Acts," they said.

Magnitsky's legacy

The "EU Magnitsky Act" is an informal name in Brussels for the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime.

But several EU countries have parallel legislation at national level.

So called to honour the Russian late activist Magnitsky, the acts impose asset-freezes and visa-bans on those listed.

Bill Browder — a British financier and human-rights campaigner, who was Magnitsky's former employer — said none of the nine Russians are likely to be banking or holidaying in the EU anyway, even if their relatives might be.

But the blacklist still sends a "strong message", he told EUobserver on Tuesday.

"The EU is saying Kara-Murza is so important to us that we are going after his persecutors," he said.

"It also says to the Russians: 'He's a valuable hostage, don't kill him'," Browder added.

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