Russia bill aims to punish Americans accused of rights violations

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MOSCOW — The Russian parliament’s lower house Friday gave initial approval to a bill that would impose sanctions on U.S. citizens accused of human rights violations.

The bill, which does not specify the kinds of violations that would apply, was named for Dima Yakovlev, a boy who was adopted and died of heatstroke after his American father left him in a parked car for hours four years ago in Virginia. It is expected to receive full parliamentary approval this month and become effective Jan. 1.

The vote by Russian legislators came as President Barack Obama on Friday signed a bill into law that helps increase U.S. business opportunities in Russia, but calls for punishment of Russians accused of human rights violations.

The U.S. law is named for Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in jail in 2009 after he accused Russian police and tax officials of taking $230 million from the state in a tax refund scam. Independent experts and human rights activists believe his death resulted from torture and beatings he suffered in a Moscow jail while awaiting trial on tax charges officials brought against him.

Several Russian legislators and other officials denounced the U.S. law, saying it interferes with Russian internal affairs.

“The bill approved in the United States is purely discriminating and is just another club raised over Russian citizens and our country,” said Communist Party lawmaker Pavel Dorokhin. “We communists are for boosting the law with economic measures.”

Vladimir Vasilyev, head of the United Russia faction, conceded that “it is not easy to conduct business in Russia today,” but said lawmakers must serve the interests of the Russian people rather than “look back on the United States.”

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement late Friday critical of the U.S. law, saying there were U.S. officials who “want to punish Russia for its independent and principled position in foreign affairs.”

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