Rights group launches campaign to push for sanctioning Turkish officials under UK’s Magnitsky Act

Human rights group The Arrested Lawyers Initiative has launched a campaign called the “Turkey Human Rights Accountability Project” to push for the sanctioning of Turkish officials involved in human rights abuses by the United Kingdom, using the country’s newly adopted Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations, often referred to as the Magnitsky Act.

If the initiative is successful, Turkish officials involved in human rights violations will be subject to personal sanctions in the UK under the country’s new regulations, which went into force on July 6, 2020.

The move comes in the wake of ongoing and widespread human rights abuses in Turkey including torture, enforced disappearances and the imprisonment of dissidents, lawyers, activists, journalists and academics on trumped-up charges.

According to an explanatory memorandum prepared by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the new regulation enables the UK government to “designate persons who are involved in certain activities which, had they been carried out by or on behalf of a State within the territory of that State, would amount to a serious violation by that State of certain human rights.”

These include an individual’s right to life; right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and an individual’s right to be free from slavery, not to be held in servitude or required to perform forced or compulsory labor. The regulations enable the UK secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs to impose asset freezes and travel bans on persons involved in such conduct.

The UK’s Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations are often referred to as the Magnitsky Act due to its similarity to US legislation called the Global Magnitsky Act, which allowed for sanctions on human rights abusers in other parts of the world. The act was named after Sergei Magnitsky, an auditor and lawyer who was investigating a large-scale Russian tax fraud case while working for London-based investment fund Hermitage Capital. The fund, run by US financier Bill Browder, said millions of dollars in tax payments paid by Hermitage had been diverted to Russian officials. Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 after he informed the Russian government of his findings. He was in pre-trial detention when he died in 2009 following alleged mistreatment in prison.

The US and Britain were among the countries that said Magnitsky was jailed on fabricated evidence to conceal his allegations of high-level corruption.

According to a report by The Guardian, the UK’s first sanctions list based on the new regulations included individuals from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and North Korea. Those sanctioned include 25 Russian officials implicated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky and Saud al-Qahtani, a close advisor and friend of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who allegedly was the mastermind of the operation in which Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed and dismembered at the Saudi Consulate General in İstanbul.

In a press release The Arrested Lawyers Initiative said the project would be crowdfunded and that they intend to instruct two English human rights barristers to draft submissions for the sanctions.

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