GOP reps urge Magnitsky Act sanctions against Chinese officials over coronavirus response

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EXCLUSIVE: Three Republican members of Congress are pushing the Trump administration to sanction individual Chinese government officials over what they call their "duplicitous, ineffective, and cruel response" to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin obtained by Fox News, Reps. Jim Banks, R-Ind., Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, and Lance Gooden, R-Texas, called for the use of the Global Magnitsky Act – which lets the U.S. sanction human rights abusers – to target specific Chinese officials without punishing the country as a whole. The letter singles out 10 officials with the Chinese Communist Party.

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“We believe their actions violated the 2005 International Health Regulations, the human rights of their citizens, and basic principles of fairness and responsibility in international relations,” the letter said.

The congressmen detail a variety of allegations including the detention, interrogation, and reprimand of eight doctors for “spreading rumors” of a virus; detaining journalists; spreading false or misleading information about the virus; accusing the U.S. military of creating and spreading it; and sending 30,000 Uyghur Muslims to factories and crowded “re-education camps” where they were at risk of infection.

“All of these baffling and damaging decisions harmed Chinese citizens and the rest of the world,  encouraged the spread of COVID-19, and hindered governments around the world from crafting an effective pandemic response,” the letter said, blaming these acts for thousands of “unnecessary American deaths and substantial economic damage.

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The officials named in the letter are Wuhan Deputy Mayor Chen Yongxin; Wuhan Public Security Bureau director Li Yilong and former deputy director Xia Jianzhong; National Health Commission minister Ma Xiaowei and vice-minister Wang Hesheng; Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijiang; former ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian; Hotan District Industry and Information Bureau deputy director Zhang Wei; Politburo member Chen Quango; and Hikvision chairman Chen Zongnian.

"I know Secretary Pompeo shares my dim view of the Communist Party, and I look forward to working with him, and Reps. Crenshaw and Gooden to hold Party officials accountable," Banks said in a statement. "Starting with the seven on that list, who have significantly harmed the global economy and contributed to the deaths of countless American and Chinese citizens."

In April, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., also reached out to Pompeo regarding the use of Global Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese officials. He urged the secretary to launch a task force “to identify and investigate” Chinese government officials for their role in allegedly silencing doctors and journalists who have spoken out about China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Last month, Magnitsky Act proponent Bill Browder said he agrees with Smith’s call to use the global version of the law to punish Chinese government bad actors. The original version of the law is named after his friend and colleague Sergei Magnitsky, who had alleged corruption involving Russian officials and later died after being beaten by Russian guards in 2009.

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Last week, China's state-run media targeted congressional Republicans including Banks, Crenshaw, Gooden, and Smith for their outspoken stance against the nation's government. An article in the Global Times said that “at least four US Congress members” would be placed on China’s sanctions list.

Banks said China was "desperate to avoid responsibility" and that he was "neither surprised nor intimidated" by China's message.

“Sanctions will not silence me or anyone who demands genuine accountability for this horrific pandemic,” Smith said in a statement. “In my state of New Jersey alone, more than ten thousand people have died from COVID-19. Beijing cannot continue to hide, lie and now threaten to stop us from demanding the truth.”

Fox News' Nick Givas contributed to this report.