Russia: New law could make you a spy without your knowledge
Russia’s FSB [Security Service] is proposing to introduce criminal liability not merely for divulging state secrets, but for receiving them.
The State Duma has adopted in its first reading a draft law to this effect. The draft bill would also extend the concept of state treason which could be regarded as cooperation with international NGOs.
On Friday deputies passed a draft law formally from the government, but effectively prepared by the FSB. The document first tabled in the State Duma in 2008 would make amendments to both the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code.
The changes would include a new article (283.1) of the Criminal Code which would prohibit not only divulging, but also « receiving information constiutting a state secret via seizure, fraud, bribery, blackmail, compulsion or the threat of violence ».
This would carry a punishment of up to four years imprisonment or a fine of from 200 to 500 thousand rubles. If the act was committed by a group of people, or with the use of special devices for illicitly receiving information, it could carry a sentence of eight years imprisonment.
Human rights workers point to the danger of imposing criminal liability for receiving information related to state secrets. Igor Kalyapin, Head of the Committee against Torture notes that a person who has not been given access to a state secret may not know that it is such. He adds that human rights workers in the North Caucuses keep coming up against problems with the interpretation of state secrets. He recounts that he was once accused of divulging state secrets over several important photos taken at a base of the Chechen OMON [riot police]. He only later learned that the territory was classified as secret. Such situations are not isolated cases in the area.
The draft law also allows for criminal prosecution for passing on information constituting a state secret “causing harm to the security of the Russian Federation” not only to a foreign government, but also to international NGOs. According to the draft law, a person could hear such information at work or in their studies. If the law is passed, then what is defined as treason will include financial, material and technical, consultative or other assistance to a foreign government or organization “whose activities are directed against Russia”.
Igor Kalyapin calls the situation extremely worrying and says that it would be possible to commit treason or espionage according to the draft bill without even suspecting for a second that the information that you’ve received is a state secret.
The FSB apparently objects to the fact that at present the defence can argue that “hostile” activity has not been proven. They therefore propose removing this wording and declaring any activity which helps foreign governments and organizations whose actions they regard as causing damage to Russia to be a crime.
The authors of this draft law believe that potential spies in Russia are particularly interested in secret information regarding investigative operations. The information could pertain to geology, geodesics, cartography, topography and economic activities.
From a report