Russian Duma set to extend “spying” articles in the Criminal Code


All those whose actions are directed “against the security of the Russian Federation, including its constitutional system, sovereignty, territorial and state integrity” will become traitors and spies in Russia if new amendments to the Criminal Code are passed.

The draft law changes the norms of the current Criminal Code according to which at present only “hostile” action threatening exclusively “the external security of the Russian Federation” is considered to be State treason.

Human rights defenders and lawyers are concerned that under the new norm, just as in Stalin’s times, anybody who dares to criticize the authorities could be labelled a spy.

The government draft law appeared in the State Duma last Friday when deputies from the “United Russia” party and LDPR (Zhirinovsky’s party) approved in its third reading amendments to the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure restricting the powers of juries (cf.

Juries are now not allowed to examine cases connected not only with terrorism, the siege of hostages and violent seizure of power, but also with mass disturbances, sabotage, as well as with state treason and espionage.

One of the likely reasons for the amendments introduced on Friday is that they will simplify the work of the Federal Security Service [FSB] investigators.  The explanatory note states that the present norm labelling treason hostile action against the external security of the country needs to be changed since it is “extremely difficult to prove” that action was indeed “hostile” which is allegedly used by the defence seeking “the release of those accused of a crime or defendants from criminal liability”.

The explanatory notes also state that “some international organizations have on several occasions made attempts to obtain information constituting a state secret.”  Therefore, according to the government, the essence of state treason should be understood not as “hostile activity”, but as “acts”, including handing over a state secret to “a foreign state, international or foreign organization”.  It should be noted that the term introduced "деяния" [“deyenya”] is broader than “activity”, since it encompasses either action or failure to act.

As mentioned, the very definition of state treason has been broadened considerably, from the current “hostile action aimed at harming the external security of the Russian Federation” to the new “acts directed “against the security of the Russian Federation, including its constitutional system, sovereignty, territorial and state integrity”.

According to the Head of the Department of Law of the Moscow Physics and Technology University Boris Nadezhdin, if the draft law is passed, then “any person who spoke with a foreigner could be deemed a traitor.” Equating actions “against the constitutional system” with treason, the government names among such actions “giving financial consultative assistance .. to a foreign organization”.

Mr Nadezhdin himself was co-author of an open letter of the party “Pravoye delo” to regional legislators in which they called on the latter to oppose the amendments to the Constitution increasing the length of term of the President. Nadezhdin told BBC correspondents in detail about the letter. “If the government’s draft law had already been passed, it would be possible to charge me with state treason since I first signed a letter directed against the constitutional system and then as well spoke about this to a foreign organization”.

Lev Levinson from the Human Rights Institute has similar fears. “The term “security” / “safety” [one word in Russian – translator] has a number of meanings: information security, food safety. He considers that by equating “simply action directed against the constitutional system”, this suggests the reinstatement of the norms from Stalinist times when anti-Soviet activity was considered a crime”.

Levinson is also concerned that the term “international organization” has appeared in articles of the Criminal Code. He considers that the existing norms about “a foreign organization” are sufficient to examine any cases where international organizations are implicated in spying, since each of theme is registered in some country or another (for example, the UN is registered in Geneva, Switzerland).

However there are international organizations registered in Russia, for example, “Memorial”. If the government draft law is passed then Lev Levinson believes that Memorial “if they wanted to, could be accused of treason for passing critical material abroad, for example, about the Russian electoral system which is one of the foundations of the constitutional system”

The draft law which curtailed many of the powers of juries was passed basically within two weeks, with no significant changes.

Based on information from

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