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Australia’s allies ready to sanction Belarus officials

“The UK, the West and the world cannot sit idle while the Belarusian people’s democratic and human rights are violated so brutally in clear violation of Belarus’ obligations as a member of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe,” he said.

Bill Browder, an American billionaire-turned-activist.

Bill Browder, an American billionaire-turned-activist.Credit:Bloomberg

Browder told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that Australia was “noticeably absent”.

“As the world burns, it’s very frustrating that Australia still has not passed its own Magnitsky Act,” he said.

“Today the UK announced they were going to coordinate Magnitsky sanctions on the Lukashenko regime in Belarus for their human rights abuses with Canada and the US but Australia was noticeably absent from that announcement.”

Raab said the UK had hoped to join EU sanctions which were initiated a month ago, but the efforts have been stymied by Cyprus which is refusing to agree to the plan unless the same actions are announced for Turkey.

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Raab said £1.5 million ($2.7 million) would be allocated to Belarusian human rights groups including £800,000 to support journalists and replace their destroyed equipment.

Raab said pursuing sanctions in conjunction with its Western partners was an example of what the UK could achieve because of Brexit.

Samuel Jackson from the Henry Jackson Society called on Australian MPs to pass their own version of the law, so that the Five Eyes intelligence partners, which comprises the UK, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, could stand up to dictators with a combined voice.

“Australia’s friends have admired and stood with Australia in solidarity as it has stood up to the authoritarian aggression from Xi Jinping’s China,” Jackson said.

“However, in order to maintain its reputation as a champion of the rules-based order, it must join its Five Eyes allies in passing Magnitsky legislation so that we can target human rights abusers whether they are in Xinjiang, Myanmar or Belarus.

“Australia’s adversaries are happiest when it is divided from its allies. Standing together is the only way authoritarian leaders will see our resolve and eventually bend to it,” he said.

The United States, during the Obama administration, was the first country to pass Magnitsky legislation, named after Browder’s Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in jail in Moscow. He had been arrested after exposing tax fraud involving Russian officials.

Canada introduced its version of the legislation in 2015 and this year, Raab announced the first sanctions under the UK’s law.

More than 12,000 people have been arrested, and hundreds remain in jail as part of Lukashenko’s crackdown.

Lukashenko has been the President of Belarus for 26 years, the only president since the former Soviet republic became independent. He is backed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Raab said the UK was always on watch for Russia’s “predatory” behaviour and interference in other countries, and said Russia had always viewed Belarus as a “client state”.

The Department of Foreign affairs has been contacted for comment.

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