Robert B. Hilton, spokesman for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, said he would not comment because “we have not heard formally from the Russian government on this issue.”
The State Department compiled the “Magnitsky list” of banned officials this summer, in a move that was actually intended to head off a bill, introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), that would make such a list legally binding and freeze the assets of those who are on it.
The American ban has stirred considerable anger here within the government as well as garnered plaudits from human rights defenders.
Activists consider the Magnitsky list extremely effective because it punishes individuals rather than launching a broad attack against the government. “It’s very important. I think it will make people think twice,” Lyubov Volkova, a member of the presidential monitoring commission that oversees conditions in Moscow’s pre-trial jails, said Friday.
It’s a powerful deterrent to further abuses, she said, because people don’t want to be put on the list. Zoya Svetova, another commission member, said, “They have children who want to study in the U.S., and they don’t want their names on the list.”
Svetova said a fellow activist received a call recently from an official who asked whether he knew anyone at the U.S. Embassy who could get his name erased from the list.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, noted in an interview with the Interfax news agency that Russian officials are much more likely to have bank accounts and a desire to visit the United States than vice versa.
Magnitsky, who died in November 2009, was arrested after he prepared to expose a $230 million tax fraud. He was charged with the fraud himself, but died after a year in jail without coming to trial. The monitoring commission that President Dmitry Medvedev asked to investigate Magnitsky’s death found that the government was at fault. So far no one has been held responsible.
The European parliament has recommended that member states adopt their own Magnitsky lists, but none has yet done so.