Kremlin opponents could face criminal prosecution under new Russian legislation proposing possible prison sentences for Russians who adhere to or promote international sanctions targeting Moscow, one of the bill’s authors said on May 16.
The remarks by lawmaker Andrei Isayev came a day after the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, unanimously gave initial approval to the draft legislation, which is seen as a response to U.S.-imposed sanctions on Russian officials, tycoons, and companies.
Isayev specifically identified Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, as a potential target for authorities under the legislation.
He cited Kara-Murza’s vigorous lobbying for U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Russian officials over Moscow's human rights record.
"I am warning him as a State Duma deputy: If the bill is passed and becomes law, such activities will be considered a crime," Isayev, a member of the ruling United Russia party, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying.
Isayev added that "other individuals" who lobby foreign governments to impose sanctions against Russia could also be prosecuted under the legislation, which would criminalize "premeditated actions that enable the imposition of" foreign sanctions, if authorities can prove "intent."
The bill provides for prison sentences of up to four years for those found guilty of "actions taken with the goal of executing" international sanctions imposed on Russia, and up to three years for the premeditated "enabling" of foreign sanctions.
A prominent Russian industry lobby group on May 16 called the bill "categorically unacceptable," saying it could lead to "baseless" prosecutions and harm Russia’s business climate and economy.
In order to become law, the bill would have to be passed in two more readings in the State Duma and in the upper house of parliament before being signed by Putin.
Kara-Murza has fallen gravely ill twice in Moscow over the past three years in what he alleges were deliberate poisonings due to his activism.
He met with U.S. lawmakers to encourage the passage of the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that punishes Russians deemed by Washington to be complicit in human rights abuses, and has lobbied for similar punitive measures by other Western countries.
Kara-Murza was also a driving force in the renaming of a plaza near the Russian Embassy in Washington in honor of a fellow Kremlin critic, Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
Nemtsov, who was shot dead near the Kremlin in February 2015, had also met with U.S. lawmakers to urge passage of the Magnitsky Act.
Responding to Isayev’s remarks, Kara-Murza said his work is "aimed at establishing accountability…for those who violate the rights of Russian citizens and steal money from Russian taxpayers."
"I’m proud of my modest contribution to the adoption of 'Magnitsky acts’ in several European and North American countries. I intend to continue this work," he told RFE/RL in written comments on May 16.
"I do not intend to change my plans, including travel, depending on the actions of the current regime," added Kara-Murza, whose family lives outside Washington and who splits his time between Russia and the United States.
Both Kara-Murza and Mikhail Kasyanov, Putin’s former prime minister who became an opposition politician, have met with officials in Washington to call for U.S. sanctions targeting Russian state-media figures.
The United States, the EU, and other states have hit Russia with sanctions in response to its 2014 seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
More recently, Washington slapped punitive measures on Moscow last month for what it called Russia’s "malign activity around the globe."
The Western sanctions have enraged Moscow, which has denounced them as "illegal" and "unacceptable."