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One of those included on the list of sanctioned persons is Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of the late longtime Uzbek President Islam Karimov

WASHINGTON -- The United States has imposed financial and travel restrictions on 52 government-linked people from Uzbekistan, Russia, Ukraine, and elsewhere, under a U.S. law aimed at human rights abusers and corrupt officials worldwide.

The list, released December 21, included the eldest daughter of the late Uzbek President Islam Karimov; the son of Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika; a Ukrainian riot police commander; a Burmese Army general; and others.

"We must lead by example, and today's announcement of sanctions demonstrates the United States will continue to pursue tangible and significant consequences for those who commit serious human rights abuse and engage in corruption," the State Department said in a statement.

The sanctions were the first to be imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, a 2016 law that was modeled on another law passed four years earlier that specifically targeted Russians. It was named for a Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison in 2009 after being accused of involvement in a massive tax-fraud scheme that he first discovered.

The announcement comes one day after the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned five Russian individuals under the earlier law, also called the Magnitsky Act, including the leader of Russia's Chechnya region.

Moscow Slams 'Grotesque' Move

Russia condemned both sanctions announcements. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova promised an unspecified response.

"This all really looks grotesque now, since it's not based on any kind of reality," Zakharova said.

Gulnara Karimova, the elder daughter of the late Uzbek president, was among the most prominent people on the list, accused by the Treasury Department of heading a "powerful organized crime syndicate that leveraged state actors to expropriate businesses, monopolize markets, solicit bribes, and administer extortion rackets."

For years, Karimova was widely seen as the heir to her father until reporters and European prosecutors uncovered a wide-reaching bribery and extortion scheme involving major international telecom companies.

She has not been seen publicly in several years, reportedly kept under house arrest, and she was not seen at her father's funeral last year.

Earlier this year, she was reportedly charged by the Uzbek Prosecutor General's Office with "directly abetting the criminal activities of an organized crime group whose assets were worth over $1.3 billion."

The bribery scheme has led to billions in criminal fines paid by telecom companies in the United States and Europe.

Artyom Chaika, the son of Russia's chief prosecutor,Yury Chaika (file photo)
Artyom Chaika, the son of Russia's chief prosecutor,Yury Chaika (file photo)

Artyom Chaika, the son of Russia's prosecutor-general, is the most prominent Russian to be targeted. He has long been dogged by accusations of influence-peddling stemming from his father's prominence.

Chaika "leveraged his father's position and ability to award his subordinates to unfairly win state-owned assets and contracts and put pressure on business competitors," the Treasury Department said.

When it was passed in 2012, the first Magnitsky Act infuriated Moscow, and Russian President Vladimir Putin responded a few months later by signing a law banning all adoptions of Russian children by American parents.

Secretive Lobbying

In 2016, as efforts to create a global version of the Magnitsky Act were building, a secretive lobbying campaign was started in Washington that sought to undermine the narrative behind Magnitsky's discovery and death.

That effort was funded in part by Denis Katsyv, a businessman with connections to Chaika, and involved lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who met with President Donald Trump's eldest son in June 2016, as Trump's presidential election campaign was gaining momentum.

Veselnitskaya also served as Katsyv's Russian lawyer in a U.S. legal case that charged one of Katsyv's companies with laundering some of the proceeds of the tax fraud uncovered by Magnitsky to buy Manhattan real estate.

Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya (file photo)
Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya (file photo)

That case was settled in May, with the company, Prevezon Holdings, admitting no wrong doing and paying a $6 million fine.

Also included on the new Global Magnitsky List was Sergei Kusyuk, identified as a commander of an elite Ukrainian police unit, the Berkut. It said Kusyuk has been named by the Ukrainian General Prosecutor's Office as taking part in the February 2014 killings of activists on Kyiv's Maidan square. The violence led to President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country to Russia.

Kusyuk also fled Ukraine and is now in hiding in Moscow where, the Treasury said, he was identified dispersing protesters as part of a Russian riot police unit in June 2017.

The Treasury also sanctioned Mukhtar Hamid Shah of Pakistan, believed by Pakistani police believe to be involved in kidnapping, wrongful confinement, and the removal of and trafficking in human organs. Burmese military officer Maung Maung Soe was hit for matters related to a "brutal" crackdown against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

A still from Abdolreza Kahani's film Delighted, which an official from the Iranian Culture Ministry deemed to be "immoral."

Iran has taken its cultural censorship efforts to new levels by pressuring a filmmaker to cancel the screening of one of his films in Canada.

The film, Delighted, by Abdolreza Kahani, was due to be screened last month at an independent theater in Toronto.

But Kahani decided to cancel the screening after receiving a warning from Iran's Culture Ministry.

A source close to Kahani's production team who did not want to be named told RFE/RL that the ministry "advised" the filmmaker that if he would go ahead with the screening his other film, We Love You Mrs. Yaya, which was filmed in Thailand, would not be allowed to be shown inside Iran.

"When we announced that the film would be screened [in Canada] and tickets were sold, we received a message requesting the screening be cancelled; the message said that, if not, Kahani's [other] film – [which was] was made in Thailand and was costly -- will not receive a screening permit," the source said.

Iranian director Abdolreza Kahani (file photo)

The source added that authorities had also contacted producers, including those involved in the production of We Love You Mrs. Yaya, to convince him to cancel the November 24 screening in Toronto.

Kahani has said in an interview with Radio Canada that Delighted is the story of three women who want to have a good time in Iran and are trying to meet wealthy men in order to achieve that goal.

A Culture Ministry official was quoted in 2016 as saying that Delighted was "immoral."

Last year, a member of a committee that issues screening permits said that Delighted was problematic "from the beginning till the end." He didn't provide details but said the film was "not amendable."

Film critic Khosro Dehghan says the Culture Ministry's move to block the showing of Delighted in Canada was unprecedented.

"The Culture Ministry is not likely to confirm this issue as it would prove that the ministry won't limit itself to the country's borders -- any film that is banned here will not be allowed to be screened anywhere else in the world," Dehghan said in an interview with the daily Jamee Farda.

"The ministry has now extended its reach beyond Iran's borders," Dehghan added.

Banned At Home, Lauded Abroad

Authorities routinely ban award-winning Iranian movies from cinemas inside the country.

But until now there hadn't been any known efforts to prevent the screening of controversial movies outside the country.

Dissident film director Jafar Panahi -- who received a six-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban on directing movies in 2010 -- screened his latest film Taxi, made clandestinely, at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival where it received the Golden Bear Prize.

Iranian director Jafar Panahi in a still from his acclaimed movie Taxi.

Panahi told Jamee Farda that Iran should not interfere in the screening of films in other countries.

"Domestic rules should not be enforced when it comes to screening movies in other countries," he said.

"If that was the case, Iran's cinema would have never been able to grow and be introduced to the world," Panahi added.

"[Authorities] should either shut down the cinema [industry] or find a solution," he said.

Strict Restrictions

Iranian filmmakers have to follow tight censorship rules that forbid showing unveiled women, physical contact between men and women, and criticism of Islamic principles.

The strict restrictions limit the topics that can be discussed in movies.

Yet, Iranian filmmakers have managed to produce several movies that are universally acclaimed and have won many awards.

Those banned inside the country are accessible on the black market and online.

Kahani wrote in a July op-ed piece published by the reformist Sharq daily that "filmmakers don't have the right to show the reality [of life in Iran]."

"What are we afraid of? From the current realities?! People are well-aware [of what's going on] and they're far ahead of films and managers," he wrote.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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