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Russian Human Rights Defenders express grave concern over a new and dangerous amendment to Federal Legislation against extremism

The new provisions, if accepted, would do little to curb real extremism, but would seriously endanger civil liberties

Russian human rights defenders and experts have been persistently expressing their concerns in connection with the Federal Law “On Countering Extremist Activity”, which was adopted in 2002. This piece of legislation combines an excessively broad definition of “extremism” and excessively harsh sanctions provided against individuals, organizations, and media. To note, in practice the harshness of the law hasn’t resulted in making the struggle against extremist more effective. At the same time, in the past four years, the anti-extremist legislation has been used with increasing frequency for disproportionate and even illegitimate curtailment of civil rights. 

Hence, we are now gravely disturbed by the fact that on July 28, 2006, the State Duma of the Russian Federation adopted in first reading an amendment to the aforesaid law, which makes the already broad and vague definition of extremism even broader

Some of the introduced sub-definitions are quite reasonable but three of them call for special concern. Namely, is the said draft amendment is adopted:

(1) In accordance with the new amendment, the definition of extremism shall include libel against state officials related to accusation in extremism or in a particularly grave crime. Libel is a criminal offense and a fact of libel must be essentially determined by a court of law within the framework of relevant criminal procedures. However, the Law “On Countering Extremist Activity” is not part of the Russian criminal law and it is quite likely that the fact of libel will be determined in administrative procedures against an organization or a media-body. Thus, de facto, public accusation of officials in corruption (which constitutes a grave crime) or in extending patronage to ultranationalists and many other such accusations may become banned.

(2) Any act of violence against an official shall qualify as extremism. At the same time, it is quite evident that certain actions of that kind - although definitely illegal – perpetrated by a member of an organization or a group don’t always signify that the given organization or group is of any social danger. Those actions may be of purely common character (hooliganism, etc) or take place within the framework of forced dispersal of public rallies.

(3) Thirdly, not only calls to extremist activity but also justifications of extremist activity will be banned. In connection with the continuously broadening definition of extremism, this means that non-violent acts of civil disobedience or justification of a priest/preacher who insists on uniqueness and superiority of the followers of his religion will qualify as extremism.

The aforesaid draft law represents a grave threat for civil liberties, and particularly for associations and media. And the recent state efforts to suppress such independent bodies force us to treat this threat very seriously.

It is evident that the second reading of this draft amendment should be proceeded by a broad public debate. There is no justification for such rush actions aimed to limit civil liberties. However, according to our sources, the second reading has already been scheduled for the 5th of July this year, which preclude the very possibility of relevant public discussion as well as the elaboration of some changes to the amendment.

We believe it imperative to have the second reading of the draft legislation postponed and to have the aforesaid dangerous provisions elimination from the draft. Therefore, we call the attention of the international community to the given situation and hope that the G7 states will back our concerns on the eve of the St Petersburg Summit.

Alexander Verkhovsky, SOVA Center

Tanya Lokshina, Demos Center

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