November 1, 2012 in Nation/World

Russian lawmakers expand treason laws

Sergei L. Loiko Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW – The upper house of Russia’s parliament on Wednesday voted to broaden the definition of espionage and high treason, continuing what many activists view as a crackdown on dissent in the country.

The legislation, which will become law if signed by President Vladimir Putin, expands the definition of espionage and high treason to encompass “the rendering of financial, material-technical or other assistance to a foreign state, international or other organization or their representatives in the activities directed against the security of the Russian Federation.”

The bill was approved by 138 of the 139 senators present in the Federal Council, the parliament’s upper house.

The bill, which was submitted by the Federal Security Service, the successor of the Soviet KGB, offers officials wide room for interpretation and could undercut the development of democracy in Russia, warned Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Presidential Council of Civic Society and Human Rights.

“If approached literally, the bill creates totally unlimited possibilities of finding high treason in any action,” Fedotov said in an interview Wednesday. “If a passer-by asks me in a Moscow street for directions to the Kremlin and duly gets them from me and later turns out to be a member of an organization working against our national security, I will automatically become a person guilty of high treason.”

Fedotov complained that his council’s prior warnings were not heeded by the lawmakers in the Federal Council and the Duma, the lower house of parliament, which previously approved the measure. Now his group will urge Putin to veto the legislation, which he is widely expected to sign.

The bill follows the chain of recent legislation that curbed the holding of mass rallies, proclaimed foreign-sponsored nongovernmental organizations as “foreign agents” and revived the charge of slander to apply pressure on mass media.

Andrei Klishas, head of the upper house’s committee on constitutional law, legal issues and civic society development, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. He wrote in the committee’s assessment that “the bill will serve the improvement of criminal law in the sphere of protecting the state secrets from criminal encroachment and will enhance the efficiency of upholding the security of the Russian Federation.”

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