Forty-seven people and two organisations accused of the “most notorious human rights violations in recent years” were on Monday given the dubious honour of being hit by sanctions imposed independently by the UK for the first time.
In the past, the measures have been taken collectively as part of the United Nations or the European Union, but today’s announcement was one of the first major international moves by a post-Brexit Britain.
Sensing his moment, foreign secretary Dominic Raab stood in the Commons and, apparently taking a few cues from the world of Hollywood blockbusters, said “thugs of despots”, “henchmen of dictators” and “those with blood on their hands”, would not be welcome in the UK.
Of the the forty-nine individuals, 25 are Russian and 20 are from Saudi Arabia, with the vast majority implicated in one of two major international crimes – the murders of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
But there were notable omissions from the list – Tory Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said there has been a “remarkable silence on human rights violations in China”.
In October 2017, a team of 15 Saudi agents was dispatched to Turkey to meet Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
The journalist, who had been publicly critical of the Saudi regime, believed he was attending an appointment to pick up documents needed to marry his Turkish fiancee but he was never seen alive again.
Turkish officials who investigated the incident concluded Khashoggi was killed in the embassy and then dismembered with a bone saw. The CIA concluded the operation was conducted on the orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
His body has yet to be found.
In 2009 Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky uncovered large-scale tax fraud in his home country and died in prison after giving evidence against corrupt officials.
He lends his name to the US Magnitsky Act which imposes sanctions on human rights abusers.
In the years since his death, Magnitsky’s employer Bill Browder has relentlessly campaigned with great success to get governments around the world to impose sanctions on those responsible for his death.
All 47 people named on the list will have any assets held in the UK frozen and will be barred from travelling to or via the UK.
Raab said: “Today this government and this House sends a very clear message on behalf of the British people that those with blood on their hands, the thugs of despots, the henchman of dictators will not be free to Waltz into this country to buy up property on the King’s Road, to do their Christmas shopping in Knightsbridge or frankly to siphon dirty money through British banks or other financial institutions.”
1) Aleksey Vasilyevich Anichin
Anichin was a deputy minister in the Russian Interior Ministry at the time of Magnitsky’s death.
He oversaw a team of investigators who failed to investigate complaints made by Magnitsky about his mistreatment and concealed evidence of his deteriorating medical condition in the led up to his death.
2) Oleg Silchenko
Silchenko was one of the investigators overseen by Anichin, and according to the UK Foreign Office was “directly involved in the mistreatment of Magnitsky whilst in detention, which contributed significantly to his death”.
Silchenko extended his detention six times despite his deteriorating condition and refused his requests to see his family.
Speaking in the Commons on Monday, Raab said: “I hope that today in this House we show our solidarity with the family that Sergei Magnitsky left behind, his wife Natalya, his son Nikita and I can tell the House they will be watching from the Foreign Office in my office as we speak.
Silchenko and Anichin are just two of 25 people on the list for their parts in the death of Magnitsky.
3) Saud Abdullah Al Qahtani
Al Qahtani was an adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the time of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
He was the senior official involved in planning and directing the killing using a 15 man team.
4) Salah Muhammed Al Tubaigy
As well as being a forensic doctor with the Saudi Minister of Interior, Al Tubaigy was also a professor in the Department of Criminal Evidence at Naif Arab University.
This experience and knowledge meant he was made part of the 15 man team that killed Khashoggi and had a large role in the concealment of evidence after the murder.
Al Qahtani and Al Tubaigy are just two of 20 people on the list for their parts in the murder of Khashoggi.
5) Min Aung Hlaing
Away from the deaths of Magnitsky and Khashoggi, the sanctions also target those responsible for human rights violations committed against the Rohingya Muslim population in Myanmar.
Min Aung Hlaing is commander in chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces and was responsible for military operations carried out in Rakhine State in 2017 and in 2019.
During the course of these operations, upwards of 24,000 people were killed, 34,000 thrown into fires, and over 114,000 beaten.
Aung Hlaing is accused of unlawful killings, including through systematic burning of Rohingya houses and buildings, massacre, torture, forced labour, systematic rape and other forms of targeted sexual violence, and enforced labour.
Displaying their sheer scale of depravity, the last two entries on our list aren’t people, they are government organisations established entirely to the enslavement of the very citizens that government – North Korea – is supposed to protect.
6) Ministry of State Security Bureau 7
The Ministry of State Security Bureau 7 is the entity responsible for running North Korea’s political prison camps which house anyone who dares speak out against the tyrannical rule of Kim Jong-un.
Although the North Korean state is highly secretive, defector testimony and satellite imagery have shown summary executions and torture are commonplace.
Prisoners are also subject to sexual violence and forced abortions.
The ministry also plays a large role in North Korea’s strict censorship enforcement, conducting surprise raids on homes to make sure people do not modify TVs or radios to pick up foreign broadcasts.
7) Ministry of People’s Security Correctional Bureau
Even if your crime isn’t political in nature, being jailed in any other part of North Korea’s prison system can be just as terrible.
The Ministry of People’s Security Correctional Bureau is involved in the murder, torture and subjection to forced labour of people held in those camps.
According to defectors, the Bureau extracts confessions from individuals using sexual violence and techniques such as prolonged exposure and hanging people from ceilings.