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White House web petition calls for US blacklisting of Russian lawmakers

Published time: December 23, 2012 09:49
Edited time: December 23, 2012 17:48
US President Barack Obama signs H.R. 6156, the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, December 14, 2012. (Reuters/Larry Downing)

US President Barack Obama signs H.R. 6156, the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, December 14, 2012. (Reuters/Larry Downing)

Over 35,000 people have signed a petition on the White House website urging the enactment of the Magnitsky Act. This would blacklist a majority of Russia's parliamentarians, who supported a new law banning US citizens from adopting Russian children.

The petition called on the Obama administration to “identify those involved in adopting such legislature responsible under the ‘Magnitsky Act’ and thus included to the relevant list,” arguing that they “breached all imaginable boundaries of humanity, responsibility, or common sense and chose to jeopardize the lives and well-being of thousands of Russian orphans.”

Within nearly 24 hours, the online appeal gathered the number of votes necessary for an official review. Many of the petition's signatories have names that are apparently Russian, others suggest bot activity.

On Friday, the Russian parliament held the third and final reading to pass legislation dubbed the 'Dima Yakovlev bill,' which banned US citizens from adopting Russian children. The law passed with an overwhelming majority: 420 voted in favor, seven against and one abstained.

The new law also targets countries believed to be violating the human rights of Russians, and outlaws US-funded nonprofit political organizations that could threaten Russian interests.

Screenshot from whitehouse.gov
Screenshot from whitehouse.gov

To become a law, the adoption bill must now be approved by the upper house – the Federation Council – and then signed by President Vladimir Putin. The Dima Yakovlev bill was introduced as a direct response to Washington's Magnitsky Act.

The Magnitsky Act, approved by the US Senate on December 6 and signed by President Obama on December 14, would impose an entry ban and freeze of US assets on a group of Russian MPs, law enforcement and court officials who were allegedly involved in the death of Sergey Magnitsky.

Magnitsky, an auditor who worked for a British investment fund, died of a heart attack during pre-trial detention in a Russian prison as he awaited prosecution for alleged fraud.

The White House's 'We the People' website opened in 2011, allowing users to author direct petitions to the US government, and to sign other users' petitions. Once a petition reaches 25,000 signatures, it is supposedly reviewed by the White House.

However, nearly 50 petitions that reached the 25,000 signature threshold have not seen a response from the White House.

The petitions still awaiting formal review include calls to require the labeling of all genetically modified foods, to legalize marijuana at the federal level, to outlaw blasphemy against the prophets of major religions, to support the Catalonian push for secession, and even to recount the US election.

Petition may cause ‘unprecedented scandal’ – Russian MP

Russia's State Duma has announced that serious consequences may follow if the petition is enacted and Russian MPs are included on the so-called Magnitsky list. “This would be an unprecedented scandal, probably, on the verge of breaking diplomatic ties,” said Vyacheslav Nikonov, first deputy chair of the State Duma Committee on international relations.

State Duma deputy Dmitry Vyatkin said that Washington apparently seeks to escalate tensions between the two countries, and that Moscow would respond to a US travel ban on Russian MPs by banning US legislators from entering Russia.

This scandal is very serious, but makes absolutely no sense. From their side it is some kind of safe Cold War and it will bring no good to the relations,” Vyatkin said.

The White House web petition is part of an ongoing anti-Russia propaganda campaign, Director General of the Institute of Foreign Political Studies and Initiatives Veronika Krasheninnikova told Itar-Tass on Sunday.

"I do not believe that the US State Department, which is keeping the Magnitsky list, will actually put 400 deputies of the State Duma on this list, but it is obvious that the information propagandistic campaign [against Russia] is gaining momentum with each new day," he said.

 Legislators vote a bill banning Americans from adopting Russian children r in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, in Moscow, on December 21, 2012 (AFP Photo / Natalia Kolesnikova)
Legislators vote a bill banning Americans from adopting Russian children r in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, in Moscow, on December 21, 2012 (AFP Photo / Natalia Kolesnikova)

Controversy surrounds adoption bill

Earlier, President Putin publicly supported the adoption bill,  saying that the legislation is not a direct response to Washington's Magnitsky Act. Putin called the bill “emotional, but adequate,” adding that Russians are generally unhappy about foreigners adopting Russian children.

However, the legislation prompted criticism from the general public, as well as some ministers, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Russia's Novaya Gazeta newspaper gathered over 100,000 signatures against the adoption bill. The Duma said that the public appeal is going to be reviewed by MPs, but only after New Year.

Leonid Roshal, one of Russia's most distinguished pediatricians and a prominent human rights activist, said on Sunday that authorities should reinforce current adoption legislation instead of banning foreign adoptions, especially of handicapped children. Roshal urged Russians not to punish thousands of innocent children, but to instead sanction US judges involved in notorious adoption cases.

We can add to [the Dima Yakovlev bill] those judges who issued a not-guilty verdict to foster parents and those organizations that breached legislation signed by Russia and the US,” Roshal wrote on Twitter.

On Saturday, Russian activists brought toys and flowers to the entrance of the State Duma in a silent protest against the adoption law. Security guards removed the items, but other activists came and laid down new ones.

A recent survey revealed that 62 percent of Russians believe that foreigners should not adopt Russian children; 52 percent support the adoption bill banning US citizens from adopting Russian children. The data was collected by Tiburon Company, which surveyed 1,000 Russian Internet users between the ages of 18 and 55.

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