Sir Bill Browder: King’s birthday honour is for those killed for opposing Putin and those fighting against him

Exclusive: Human rights activist Bill Browder says his knighthood in the King’s Birthday Honours list is dedicated to those that have been killed or imprisoned for opposing Russian leader Vladimir Putin

Tom Watling
Friday 14 June 2024 22:44 BST
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Sir Bill Browder is pictured in front of Downing Street in 2022
Sir Bill Browder is pictured in front of Downing Street in 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)

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Newly-knighted human rights activist Bill Browder has dedicated his honour to the Russian dissidents killed simply for opposing Vladimir Putin, as he vows to free those that have been imprisoned for keeping up the fight against the autocrat.

The US-born financier has been knighted in the King’s Birthday Honours after years of lobbying governments to introduce sanctions against human rights violators and kleptocrats.

Sir Bill’s campaign work began in 2009 after the death of his associate Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow jail after exposing a tax fraud involving Russian officials.

Since Mr Magnitsky’s death, human rights laws enacted in his name have been adopted by countries including the US, the UK and Canada, as well as the European Union.

In the US, more than 475 people have been targeted by the Global Magnitsky Act, passed in 2016 and which specialises in targeting perpetrators of human rights abuses regardless of their geographical location. Sir Bill’s lobbying was key to its enactment.

Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was killed in 2009 after being arrested for exposing a tax fraud involving Russian officials
Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was killed in 2009 after being arrested for exposing a tax fraud involving Russian officials (Provided / Jonas Heylar )

Four years later, again due to the lobbying of Sir Bill, the UK adopted the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, which is secondary legislation focused on tackling international human rights abuse. It marked the first occasion that the UK had introduced broad, standalone measures targeting human rights abuses without prompt from the United Nations or EU.

Many of those who have been targeted are Russian officials responsible for killing and/or detaining innocent dissidents speaking out against Putin, including the judges presiding over Mr Magnitsky’s case.

“This honour is dedicated to Sergei Magnitsky, whose sacrifice has led to all of the work I’ve done for the last 15 years, to try to make his death not a meaningless death,” Sir Bill said.

He added that he was also dedicating the honour to Boris Nemtsov, a prominent Russian opposition politician who was killed outside the Kremlin in 2015, and who helped Sir Bill pass the Magnitsky Act, as well as Alexei Navalny, the face of the anti-Putin Russian community, another key figure to the Magnitsky sanctions.

Mr Navalny died in a penal colony in the Arctic Circle in February this year while serving a lengthy sentence on trumped up charges of fraud. Sir Bill maintains that Mr Navalny was murdered.

“But I would say, and most importantly, because he’s still alive, this honour is for Vladimir Kara-Murza, who I am hoping to get out of prison,” Sir Bill added.

Sir Bill Browder is pictured alongise Vladimir Kara-Murza prior to the Russian dissident’s arrest in April 2022
Sir Bill Browder is pictured alongise Vladimir Kara-Murza prior to the Russian dissident’s arrest in April 2022 (Provided / Jonas Heylar )

Mr Kara-Murza, a dual British-Russian citizen, was arrested in April 2022 for speaking out against Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Since then, he has been kept in solitary confinement, in a cell only a few metres long and wide, while communication with his wife, Evgenia, and the couple’s three children has been completely severed.

Speaking to The Independent towards the end of last year, Evgenia Kara-Murza warned that “time is running out” for her husband, who suffers from a debilitating nerve condition called polyneuropathy brought on by two failed assassination attempts on his life by poisoning. It is widely believed that the Kremlin was behind the assassinations.

After the death of Mr Navalny in February, fears abound that Mr Kara-Murza may be the next to be killed while in prison. He is serving a 25-year sentence in a Siberian penal colony.

UK foreign secretary David Cameron met with Evgenia and Mr Kara-Murza’s mother, Elena Gordon, in March this year to discuss the jailed dissident’s case.

“I have been doing everything in my power to get Mr Kara-Murza out of prison,” said Mr Browder, a long time friend of Vladimir and Evgenia. “I am hopeful that this honour will raise my profile to give me more access to more decision makers to facilitate that objective.”

“There’s been such tragedy connected to the work that I’ve done. But having said that, the fault of this tragedy is not anything any of us have done. It is the fault of Vladimir Putin.”

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