Posts Tagged ‘magnitsky plaza’

November 2013

Magnitsky Plaza? Let’s Rename the Streets Outside Dictators’ Embassies

Daily Beast

In the ’80s, the Senate renamed the street outside the Soviet Embassy Sakharov Plaza to protest the dissident’s treatment. It’s time to give similar reminders to today’s dictatorships.

In May 1984, when the communist authorities prohibited Andrei Sakharov’s wife from traveling abroad for medical treatment, the Soviet dissident began a hunger strike. Four years earlier, the government had exiled Sakharov to the city of Gorky, 250 miles east of Moscow, hoping to keep him out of the public eye. Sakharov had long been the most visible domestic political critic of the Soviet Union, winning the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize, which the country’s leaders prohibited him from accepting. To keep Sakharov alive, they force-fed him. “First, they would do it intravenously, then through a tube in his nose,” Sakharov’s wife, Yelena Bonner, wrote in a note smuggled out of the country. “A clamp would then be put on his nose and whenever he opened his mouth to breathe, they would pour food down his throat. Excruciating.”

Three months later, the United States Senate took a seemingly small but provocative step in protest of Sakharov’s treatment. Responsible for much of the administration of Washington, D.C., the chamber passed a measure changing the mailing address of the Soviet Embassy from 1125 16th Street to No. 1 Andrei Sakharov Plaza. From that point forward, every Soviet official entering his place of work would be confronted with his government’s repression of its most outspoken critic. “Every piece of mail the Soviets get will remind them that we want to know what has happened to the Sakharovs,” then-Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato (R-NY), who proposed the measure, said at the time. The following year, the Soviet authorities permitted Bonner to travel abroad, and the year after that, reformist Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev permitted Sakharov and his wife to return to Moscow.

Today, Sakharov Plaza is no more. But as Russia falls further into the depths of dictatorship under Vladimir Putin, the name of another human rights hero, Sergei Magnitsky, ought to grace the mailing addresses of Russian embassies and diplomatic postings in Washington and the capital cities of free countries around the world. A conscientious young lawyer who uncovered large-scale corruption by senior Russian government officials, Magnitsky was imprisoned, tortured, and denied medical treatment before suffering an agonizing death in 2009. A measure President Obama signed into law last year placing visa restrictions and asset freezes on Russian officials responsible for human rights violations was named after Magnitsky.

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