The leaders of Russia’s lower house of parliament have been working on a bill in retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, passed last week by the U.S. Senate, and on Tuesday they said they planned to name their bill after an adopted Russian baby who died in an overheated car in Herndon, Va., in 2008.
Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer and whistleblower who died in detention in Moscow, and the American legislation places visa and financial sanctions on officials deemed to have been connected with his case. Russian politicians have vehemently denounced the bill, which is awaiting President Obama’s signature, and are planning to impose similar restrictions on Americans who are thought to have violated Russians’ human rights.
Members of the State Duma said they'll call their bill the Dima Yakovlev Act, after a Russian orphan who was adopted by an American couple and renamed Chase Harrison. In July 2008, when Chase was 21 months old, his father left him in a car for nine hours while at work, and Chase died of a heat stroke. The father, Miles Harrison of Purcellville, Va., was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter later that year.
Reports of mistreatment of Russian children by their American adoptive parents have been a constant sore point in Russia, but backers of the bill are casting their net wider than that one issue. They also have mentioned their interest in targeting Americans whom they hold responsible for the arrest in Thailand and conviction in New York of the international arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The proposed bill drew a considerable amount of derision from Russian activists Tuesday. They pointed out that far more Russian children die of abuse and neglect in Russia than in the United States. Irina Vorobyova, a member of a voluntary group called Liza Alert that searches for missing children, wrote on her blog about the bill:
“Maybe you’d better name it after Liza Fomkina, who died in the forest because the cops could not look for her since they had to be on duty in the city for the Day of the City…Or maybe after 6-year-old Artyom Novikov, who fell into the sewage well because it was not closed and died there…Or name it after 2-year-old Anna-Alyona Lomanova, who drowned in a very small and shallow stream – the child was trying to find way home for several days walking around villages and nobody found her…or after 10-year old Ivan Afanasiev, a disabled boy who went missing and froze to death. He was not saved, either! Why don’t you name the law after all children who died because they were not taken to hospitals in time because there were no appropriate hospitals in the neighborhood? Or after all children for whose treatment volunteers are trying to raise money? How about a law named after children who were kidnapped? Or a law on total check-up of all beggars with children? Shame on you, people’s deputies!”
Since the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, Russia has placed restrictions on imports of American meat, citing health concerns. The nation's chief sanitary official, Gennady Onishchenko, has said the move had nothing to do with the Magnitsky Act. But on Tuesday one of the chief backers of the Dima Yakovlev Act, Vyacheslav Nikonov of the ruling United Russia party, contradicted him and said more such restrictions were forthcoming.
Update: The Post's own Gene Weingarten wrote about the young child's heat death in his 2009 article "Fatal Distraction," which won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. The story begins:
The defendant was an immense man, well over 300 pounds, but in the gravity of his sorrow and shame he seemed larger still. He hunched forward in the sturdy wooden armchair that barely contained him, sobbing softly into tissue after tissue, a leg bouncing nervously under the table. In the first pew of spectators sat his wife, looking stricken, absently twisting her wedding band. The room was a sepulcher. Witnesses spoke softly of events so painful that many lost their composure. When a hospital emergency room nurse described how the defendant had behaved after the police first brought him in, she wept. He was virtually catatonic, she remembered, his eyes shut tight, rocking back and forth, locked away in some unfathomable private torment. He would not speak at all for the longest time, not until the nurse sank down beside him and held his hand. It was only then that the patient began to open up, and what he said was that he didn't want any sedation, that he didn't deserve a respite from pain, that he wanted to feel it all, and then to die.