FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speak during a briefing at the White House, in Washington, Sept. 10, 2019.
FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speak during a briefing at the White House, in Washington, Sept. 10, 2019.

This story originated in VOA's Russian Service.

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of 11 U.S. senators is calling on the departments of State and Treasury to issue a new round of sanctions under the Magnitsky Act over Russia's targeting of political dissidents within its own borders.

The Oct. 1 letter addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin cites research by the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center, in partnership with various other rights NGOs, which says at least 200 political prisoners are unlawfully held in Russian prisons — a number that has "increased significantly" since 2015.

FILE - A protester holds a banner reading "Freedom to political prisoners!" during a rally in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 29, 2019.

"Russia's political prisoners included peaceful protesters, civil society activists, human rights advocates, journalists, Crimean Tatars, members of the 'undesirable' political organizations and adherents of prohibited religious groups," the letter says. Some examples of particularly egregious cases are Alexei Pichugin, who has been imprisoned for 16 years over the 'Yukos Affair,' and Konstantin Kotov, who was sentenced earlier this month for participating in peaceful demonstrations in Moscow."

While some Russian government officials have already been targeted by U.S. sanctions for arbitrary incarcerations, the letter states, "many others — including Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov, and Federal Penitentiary Service Director Gennady Kornienko — have not."

The bipartisan letter, signed by several Democratic and Republican senators, comes amid a series of anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow that have resulted in mass detentions and arrests of high-profile actors and activists that appear to be politically motivated.