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30.07.2006

Vladimir Putin has signed the controversial law on extremism

   

Ignoring calls from a number of public and political organizations, the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin has signed a law increasing liability for extremist activities. The law had previously been hurried through and adopted by the State Duma and the Federation Council (the upper house of the Russian Federation parliament)

The Federal Law “On introducing amendments to Articles 1 and 15 of the Federal Law “On countering extremist activity” is aimed at defining the concept of extremist activity by designating as extremist socially dangerous actions which if committed can lead to criminal charges, Interfax reported.

According to this document, from now on public criticism of high-ranking state officials may be treated as extremist activity.  Any public statements which incite people to extremism or accept the possibility of extremist activity being carried out may become unlawful.  Critics of the document consider that the law is directed against the opposition and against freedom of the press. This view was, for example, expressed by one of the authors of the current law on the mass media, Doctor of Law Mikhail Fedotov. He believes that the amendments to the Law will not help combat real extremism in Russian, and that they are aimed at fighting political opponents of the present regime.

The next step, in Fedotov’s opinion, will be the introduction of amendments to the Criminal Code, with criminal liability being established for criticism of state officials.

The opposition had spoken out against the Law, noting that the new additions were too similar to the Articles under Stalin about “enemies of the people”.  A noteworthy percentage of the criticism directed at the legislative initiatives came from journalists who are concerned that all of this could lead to the total cessation of any criticism of the regime. The Union of Journalists of the country called on the Federation Council and the President to reject the document.

According to the Radio Station “Echo Moskvy”, foreign politicians also called upon President Putin to not sign the law on extremism, including during the summit of the G8 in St. Petersburg. However the Head of State did not give in to pressure.

On 8 July 2006 the law was passed by the State Duma, and on 14 July it was approved by the Federation Council. Members of the Federation Council did at the same time express their concern that the law encroaches upon freedom of speech and the right of citizens to take part in elections, and instructed two committees to prepare points of clarification to the law and to table these in the State Duma in the autumn.

A source in the Kremlin informed the newspaper “Kommersant” that the President, having signed the law, can agree to changes which do not affect the fundamental concept of the law. The source cited pre-election debates on live broadcasts during which extremist utterances are made as an example. . “In theory then complaints could be made against the television channel, and the law incorrectly allows this.”

Representative of the President in the Federation Council, Aleksandr Kotenkov also confirmed that the Kremlin may agree to changes in the law. “I am speaking as the President’s representative: the law was approved by the State Duma and substantive criticism on behalf of the President was not voiced  by his representatives,” Kotenkov stated. “But we always had technical points of criticism about the law and these still remain. If there are points which are not clear in the law, or that have not been developed in full, this does not mean that the law needs to be stopped because then state inaction will cause more harm than good. It is better to later clean up this or that Article. If we do not pass the law, during that time several more foreign students will be killed which cannot be compared from the point of view of seriousness of consequences. The law needs to be implemented, and work continued on improving it. Delay is inadmissible. Reworking is admissible”.

The amendments to the law on countering extremist activity, in particular, establish which organization may be considered extremist. “This is a civic or religious association or other organization in relation to which a court has passed a ruling which has come into force liquidating it or prohibiting its activities in connection with its involvement in extremist activities”.

The law also gives a definition of extremist activities.  This can be the work of civic, religious or other organizations, the editorial boards of media outlets, individuals “on planning, organizing, preparing and carrying out actions directed at a violent change in the basis of the constitutional system and an encroachment on the integrity of the Russian Federation, the undermining of the security of the country, the seizure or usurpation of state powers, the creation of illegal armed formations carrying out terrorist activities or the public justification of terrorism, as well as stirring up racial, ethnic, religious or social discord linked with violence or the call to violence, the carrying out of mass disturbances, public slander in relation to state officials, on condition that the slander has been established by the courts, an attempt on the light of a state or public figure, the creation and dissemination of material of an extremist nature, propaganda and public displays of Nazi paraphernalia and symbols which are similar to such paraphernalia”, and so forth.

The law states that extremist publications shall include the “works of the leaders of the National-Socialist Workers Party of Germany, the Fascist Party of Italy, publications arguing for or trying to justify ethnic or racial supremacy, or justifying the carrying out of military and other crimes directed at the entire or partial elimination of any ethnic, social, racial, national or religious group”.

Vladimir Putin also signed today the Federal Law “On introducing amendments to particular legislative acts of the Russian Federation in connection with the adoption of the Federal Law “On Ratification of the Convention of the Council of Europe on Prevention of Terrorism” and the Federal Law “On countering terrorism, passed by the State Duma on 5 July 2006 and approved by the Federation Council on 14 July.

The law is aimed at increasing the efficiency of legal regulation of relations in the area of countering and fighting terrorism.

The federal law introduces into legislative acts of the RF a complex of interrelated changes pertaining in particular to the activities of the mass media, information on territory where the regime for a counter-terrorist operation has been introduced, the activities of state bodies of power of subjects of the Russian Federation, bodies of local self-government and bodies of the FSB, the rules and procedure for taking decisions about the use beyond the territory of the Russian Federation of formations of the Armed Forces of the RF and special units for combating terrorism, the establishment of criminal liability for a display of terrorism, the introduction of confiscation of money, valuables and other property using for financing terrorism, as another measure of a criminal – legal nature, the possibility of the conviction in their absence of individuals who have committed serious and particularly serious crimes while they are outside the territory of the RF, and (or) avoiding appearing in court, as well as administrative liability for the violation of the legal regime of a counter-terrorist operation.

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