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British House Of Commons OKs Bill Targeting Russian Rights Abusers

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson

Britain's House of Commons has approved a measure to impose sanctions against people deemed guilty of human rights violations, in memory of the late Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called passage of the measure without a vote on May 1 after agreement with the main opposition Labour Party in the House of Commons an "important moment."

"These [provisions] will allow the U.K. to act against those responsible for serious offenses worldwide. U.K. stands up for human rights globally," he said on Twitter.

The measure must be approved by the House of Lords to become law.

Similar legislation in the United States has been used to target Russian human rights abusers. The measure received new impetus in Britain following a March nerve-agent attack against a former Russian spy living in Salisbury that was blamed on Moscow.

The British legislation is written as an amendment to a sanctions bill and would authorize the government to impose sanctions to punish rights abuses and as "a deterrent to gross violations of human rights."

It comes after a campaign led by William Browder, a former leading financier in Russian markets for whom Magnitsky worked in 2008 when he revealed a massive fraud by the Russian state.

Shortly after Magnitsky's revelation, the Russian government imprisoned him on charges of tax evasion, and he died in a Moscow prison in November 2009.

"This is a huge milestone for Britain and our campaign. It's a really huge win for justice," Browder told AFP.

"Russian human rights abusers have been sheltering their money in the U.K. without any fear of the consequences for the last two decades, and this should put the fear of God into them that their assets will be seized."

He added: "This would have happened with or without the Salisbury attack, but that focused everybody's minds on the bad intent of the Putin regime."

Prime Minister Theresa May promised to push for the legislation after the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on March 4.

"We will play our part in an international effort to punish those responsible for the sorts of abuses suffered by Sergei Magnitsky," she said at the time.

Russia has denied any involvement in the attack on the Skripals, which led to the biggest tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats by Russia and an array of British allies since the Cold War.

The U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012 and Washington has used it to slap tough sanctions on Russian officials linked to Magnitsky's death, blocking them from visiting the United States and freezing their assets.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed allegations that Magnitsky's death was linked to his alleged mistreatment in prison, saying he died of heart failure.

A Russian court sentenced Browder in absentia in December to nine years in prison after finding him guilty of deliberate bankruptcy and tax evasion, allegations Browder denies.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters
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