US imposes sanctions over abuses, targets China and Russia

The US Treasury Department imposed sanctions over human rights abuses tied to China-based illegal fishing, among other things; and over what the US calls "sham referendums" in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on dozens of people and entities over alleged rights abuses, including Russia’s Central Election Commission, Iranian officials and Chinese nationals.

The US Treasury Department said it imposed sanctions on Chinese nationals Li Zhenyu and Zhuo Xinrong, and 10 entities linked to the two, including Nasdaq-listed Pingtan Marine Enterprise (PME), over what Washington says are human rights abuses tied to China-based illegal fishing.

The designation of PME marks the first time the US has imposed sanctions on an entity listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

PME, its founder Mr Zhuo, another of the sanctioned companies Dalian Ocean Fishing, and China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Washington also targeted 157 China-flagged fishing vessels linked to the sanctioned entities, it said.

US President Joe Biden in June signed a national security memorandum to fight illegal fishing, part of pledged efforts to help countries combat alleged violations by fishing fleets, including those of China.

Countries around the world chafe at China’s fishing practices, arguing that its vessels often violate their 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and cause environmental damage and economic losses.

China says it is a responsible fishing country that has been cooperating internationally to clamp down on illegal fishing, and that it fishes in relevant EEZs according to bilateral agreements.

“These designations demonstrate how seriously we take the problem of illicit fishing and our commitment to holding the perpetrators of serious human rights abuses to account,” the US Treasury’s Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Mr Brian Nelson, said in the statement.

The Treasury issued a general licence authorising US individuals to engage in certain transactions related to debt or equity of PME until March 9.

The stock on Thursday closed at 65.7 US cents a share and was subject to a trading halt on Friday following Treasury’s sanctions announcement.

PME’s market value is less than US$60 million (S$81 million), making it a small stock, and there was no indication the move to sanction the company had a wide impact on Friday trading.

The Treasury also designated 40 individuals and entities connected to alleged human rights abuse or corruption across nine countries, including Russia, China and Iran.

Washington imposed sanctions on Russia’s Central Election Commission, accusing it of helping to oversee and monitor what the US said are “sham referendums” held in Russia-controlled areas of Ukraine, as well as 15 of its members.

The Treasury also took action against four people it accused of being directly involved in Russia’s “filtration” operations. The State Department designated two Russian nationals over alleged human rights abuse against Ukrainian civilians.

Russia has been accused of numerous war crimes since its invasion of Ukraine in February, including operating a system of so-called filtration camps to move Ukrainians in occupied areas into Russia.

Russia has denied the allegations and accused Ukraine and its backers in the West of a smear campaign.

Police investigators and cemetery workers investigate bodies found in Bucha, Ukraine, in April 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES

The Treasury also slapped sanctions on two Chinese officials it accused of serious human rights abuses in China’s Tibet region: Mr Wu Yingjie, the Communist Party of China’s chief in Tibet between 2016 and 2021, and Mr Zhang Hongbo, a senior public security official in the region.

The Chinese authorities have been accused of harsh policies to quell ethnic dissent and control religious activities in Tibet – accusations that China dismisses.

Friday’s action also imposed sanctions on Iranian officials over the crackdown on protesters, North Korea’s Ministry of State Security Border Guard General Bureau and Mr Alpha Conde, the former president of Guinea, as well as other people and entities in El Salvador, the Philippines, Mali and Guatemala.

China and Russia’s embassies in Washington and Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the actions.

Friday’s move freezes any US assets of those designated and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.

Separately, Australia’s Foreign Minister said on Saturday that the government would place targeted sanctions on Russia and Iran in response to what it called egregious human rights violations.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement that Australia was imposing Magnitsky-style sanctions on 13 individuals and two entities, including Iran’s morality police and Basij Resistance Force, and six Iranians involved in the crackdown on protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Ms Mahsa Amini in custody in September.

In an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald, Ms Wong said the sanctions applied to Mr Seyed Sadegh Hosseini, whom she described as a senior commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He was being listed for his alleged role in “indiscriminate use of violence against protesters”.

“The Iranian regime’s flagrant and widespread disregard for the human rights of its own people has appalled Australians, and the perpetrators must be held accountable,” Ms Wong wrote in the newspaper on Saturday.

Seven Russians involved in what the Foreign Minister said was the attempted assassination of former opposition leader Alexei Navalny would also have human rights sanctions imposed on them, Ms Wong said in her statement, issued with Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Tim Watts.

In addition to human rights sanctions, Ms Wong said Australia was placing further targeted financial sanctions on three Iranians and one Iranian business for supplying drones to Russia for use against Ukraine. REUTERS

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