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President signs trade bill containing human rights provision sought by Representative Jim McGovern

WASHINGTON -- The president signed a trade agreement with Russia on Friday, potentially doubling US exports to the country within five years. While promoting jobs and spurring the economy were called important benefits of the bill, Representative James McGovern was at the side of President Obama during the ceremony for another reason.

Included in the law was a provision, dubbed the Magnitsky Act, that seeks to promote human rights in Russia. McGovern, long a champion of social and humanitarian causes, sponsored the provision.

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The law would allow the United States to block travel visas and freeze the assets of anyone responsible for “gross violations of human rights” against whistle blowers exposing government corruption and other misdeeds.

Magnitsky was a tax lawyer who, McGovern said, exposed the largest tax fraud in Russian history.

“Rather than praised, he was arrested, tortured, and killed,” the Worcester Democrat said.

Magnitsky died in prison three years ago.

The law requires the US government to publish a list of those who took part in Magnitsky’s detention, abuse and death -- and anyone else taking part in the torture of those exposing illegal activity by Russian officials.

McGovern co-chairs the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a congressional panel named after the late congressman from California.

The broader mission of the agreement is to promote trade with Russian, which in August joined the World Trade Organization. US trade officials say the agreement to extend permanent normal trade relations with Russia will expand markets for US goods.

“American businesses, workers, farmers and ranchers are now on a level playing field with their global competitors looking to capitalize on the Russian market,” Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, said following the signing. Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee.

Bobby Caina Calvan can be reached at Follow him on twitter @GlobeCalvan.
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