China decries US human rights sanctions slapped on former official

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Originally published by Asia Times on December 23, 2017

Some human rights groups were happy to hear this week that Washington has finally decided to put the Global Magnitsky Act into action. The law, which allows authorities to prohibit entrance into the US and use of its banking system for foreigners suspected of human rights violations, is a follow up to similarly named legislation that was used exclusively to target Russian citizens.

The Treasury Department announced the sanctions on Thursday, naming 52 people and entities for alleged human rights violations and corruption. Joining military and political leaders accused of ordering atrocities in Myanmar and the Congo was former Beijing police official Gao Yan. China’s foreign ministry had something to say about this.

We urge the US to “stop acting as a so-called human rights judge,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying was quoted by Reuters as saying on Friday in regular briefing. The criticism of the sanctions targeting Gao were not included in the foreign ministry website’s transcript of Friday’s press briefing, nor did queries on China’s Baidu search engine for Gao’s name or the Global Magnitsky Act produce any related news results.

Gao is accused of involvement in the death of Cao Shunli, a Chinese lawyer and human rights activist who was allegedly denied medical treatment while in detention. Cao was apprehended after staging a two-month sit-in at the Chinese foreign ministry to urge authorities to allow public participation in a national human rights review.

Hong Kong-based group Chinese Human Rights Defenders was disappointed that the US stopped short of naming more officials.

“Other higher-level police officials, who had ‘command responsibility’ for Cao Shunli’s death in custody and for other incidents of torture and human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, continue to enjoy impunity,” the group was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Spokesperson Hua urged the US to “correct erroneous acts,” but reports did not say whether China was planning any additional diplomatic response to the sanctions.

After the Obama administration targeted Russian officials in 2012 under the separate Magnitsky Act (sans “Global”), Russia responded in kind, banning US officials, including those who had been involved in legalizing indefinite detention of prisoners and alleged torture under the Bush administration.

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