Liu, Magnitsky, and the Dissent Double Standard for China and Russia

Activist's death prompts Rubio to float similar sanctions for Beijing slapped on Moscow in 2012 — other senators quiet

by Margaret Menge | Updated 14 Jul 2017 at 2:57 PM

In 2012, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act to punish Russia for the death of Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died under suspicious circumstances in a Moscow prison. Magnitsky was thought to be investigating the financial practices of several well-connected Russians. The act required the Treasury Department to sanction several prominent Russians, freezing their U.S. assets and forbidding their travel to the United States. Russia responded angrily by banning American adoption of Russian children.

But some of the most prominent supporters of the Magnitsky Act have been silent on the death of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who perished this week while serving an 11-year prison sentence, and whom the Chinese Communist regime branded a criminal for speaking out against the government.

Neither Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the Magnitsky Act's sponsor in the Senate, nor Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), an enthusiastic supporter of the Magnitsky Act, have commented on the death of Liu at the hands of the Communist Chinese, and neither of their offices responded to a question from LifeZette about whether the senators would favor sanctions on China in the wake of Liu's death.

China human rights expert Steve Mosher, head of the group Population Research Control, calls Liu's death "state-sanctioned murder," saying the regime withheld medical treatment in order to kill him.

"This is so common in China that there is even a term for it. It is called 'murder without spilling blood,'" Mosher told LifeZette on Thursday.

Liu was a former university professor who emerged in the 1980s as a critic of the Chinese Communist government and was involved in the Tiananmen Square protests, in which government troops opened fire, killing and wounding thousands of students and workers. He was branded a "criminal" by the Chinese Communist Party for speaking out against corruption and was imprisoned on and off for most of his adult life. He died of liver cancer in a hospital in China on July 13, according to Chinese authorities.

In 2010, Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his "long and non-violent struggle for human rights in China" the Chinese government did not give him permission to travel to Norway to receive the prize, and the government would not allow anyone to collect it for him.

On Jan. 30, 2015, members of Congress introduced the Global Magnitsky Act, applying the original Magnitsky Act to all countries, and requiring the U.S. government to review and sanction foreigners and foreign corporations that are responsible for egregious human rights abuses. The act was passed at the end of 2016 as part of the defense authorization bill and signed into law by President Barack Obama. In May, the Trump administration sent a letter to Congress, promising "robust and thorough enforcement" of the act.

On Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, released a strong statement calling for an investigation into the death of Liu and for the Global Magnitsky Act to be applied to China, freezing the assets and prohibiting travel to the U.S. by those involved in Liu's death.

The statement reads: "As we mourn Liu Xiaobo's death and pray for his family, there are urgent matters that require high-level diplomatic attention in the coming days. Dr. Liu's family must be given his remains and permitted to honor and bury him as they see fit. Liu Xia must immediately be granted an exit visa and permitted to leave China for a country of her choosing. There should be an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Dr. Liu's death, his treatment in detention, the timing of the diagnosis of his late-stage liver cancer, and countless other questions that need to be answered. The Chinese authorities complicit in his unjust imprisonment and death should be immediately sanctioned and their assets frozen under the Global Magnitsky Act."

The statement was covered by only a few news outlets, including the British newspaper The Guardian and The Washington Times, and neither CNN nor the major television news networks covered it. In fact, little is heard about China on any of the major news channels. They are obsessively fixated on Russia, frequently referring to it as an "enemy" of the U.S. and an "adversary."

"There are three reasons why China gets a pass," says Mosher. "First, China generally gets a pass in the major media because Chinese state-owned corporations, along with even nominally private corporations (with secret partners among the party elite) withhold advertising, that is, punish newspapers, magazines, and other media outlets if they are too critical of China. So a lot of the softer coverage of China is profit-driven.

"Russia, on the other hand, is neither an important trading partner of the U.S. nor a country where American corporations have invested a lot of money. China is. Finally, President Trump is on record as a critic of China. Since the major media loathe everything he says and does, their natural inclination is to go easy on China."

Many consider China to be the single worst human rights offender in the world, executing more people in a year than all other countries combined. Despite public pronouncements of reform, many human right observers believe the Chinese government is still engaged in an organ-harvesting operation in which members of the Falun Gong movement and others, such as Muslim Uyghurs, are killed for their organs.

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