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Pussy Riot supporters seeking US sanctions

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DESMOND BUTLER | September 20, 2012 05:01 PM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON — The husband of one of the imprisoned members of the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot wants U.S. sanctions against Russian officials involved in prosecuting the musicians.

Pyotr Verzilov was meeting on Thursday with U.S. lawmakers and aides who drafted legislation that would impose sanctions on Russian officials involved in human rights violations. Verzilov is married to band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.

Three of punk band's members were sentenced in August to two years in prison for performing an irreverent song mocking Russian President Vladimir Putin inside Moscow's main cathedral.

The legislation, known as the Magnitsky bill, is named for a lawyer who died in a Russian jail in 2009 after allegedly being subject to torture. He developed pancreatitis that was left untreated. Proponents of the bill say the death and allegations of torture highlight corruption in Russia's judicial system.

The bill has been approved by the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees but has yet to come up in either chamber for a final vote. Verzilov hopes the legislation could be used to pressure Russian officials to release his wife and others.

"They are greatly afraid of having their bank accounts shut off," he said.

The bill has bipartisan support. If passed and signed into law, Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses would have difficulty doing business outside their country or even using credit cards. It would also publicly identify Russians tied to abuses.

Verzilov and his daughter Gera also met Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at an event organized by Amnesty International Thursday. Suu Kyi, one of the world's most famous political prisoners until her release two years ago, said that Russia should release the musicians.

"I don't see why people should not sing whatever they want to sing," she said.

Unless they sing terribly, she added jokingly.