One way to make sure someone is sentenced to life on the SDN list is to make it illegal for anyone to argue for removal of an SDN from the list. Of course, that would be blatantly unfair, you say, in a nation dedicated to due process and the rule of law. We would never do that. Well, think again.

Earlier this month, a federal district court in Illinois unsealed a criminal complaint filed against Prince Asiel Ben Israel and C. Gregory Turner. The two defendants are charged with violating U.S. sanctions by providing “lobbying services” to Mugabe and other Zimbabweans on the SDN list without a license from OFAC. The 55-page affidavit attached to the complaint describes a number of innocuous actions by the defendants who had been engaged to lobby of the removal of Mugabe and friends from the SDN list. These actions included speaking to U.S. legislators about the Zimbabwe-based sanctions and attempting to obtain a speaking engagement for a Zimbabwean official in the United States. Helping to arrange visas for Zimbabweans to travel to the United States was also singled out as one of the illegal activities by the defendants.

What is odd is that buried within the criminal complaint are activities that go far beyond lobbying and seem clearly to have stepped over the line, including efforts to set up a diamond mining joint venture with SDNs in the Zimbabwean government. It’s hard to understand why the prosecution would focus on and call out what most people would see as First Amendment activities when the government has a much more supportable, and much less controversial, case involving a proposed business venture with the officials in Zimbabwe.

The affidavit mentions that the defendants sought to obtain compensation for their services. However, there is no requirement under the sanctions regulations that services must be compensated to be illegal. Free services are still services and potentially covered by the sanctions.

To make sure that I don’t get indicted for writing this post, let me be clear: I think Mugabe is a terrible person who truly deserves his spot on the SDN list. Forever. And I think the same thing about his cronies on the list as well. Seriously. I’m not just saying this to stay out of trouble with the Feds. Still, if I thought otherwise, I should be able to say that without worrying about getting indicted.