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Russia: Treason Law now awaits only Putin’s signature

01.11.2012    source:
As reported, the law passed on Wednesday by Russia’s upper house introduces a dangerously broad definition of treason which could include contacts with foreign nationals and the receiving of information the person did not know was a state secret

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Russia’s Council of the Federation (parliament’s upper house) has voted in favour of the amendments to the Law on State Secrets and Treason. It was supported by 138 senators with only one abstention. The draft law now goes to Putin for signing.  At the suggestion of a member of the profile committee, the Council of the Federation has also asked the Supreme Court to hold a plenum session to consider law practice in accordance with this law “in order to remove all tension which has arisen in society”.

The profile committee’s conclusion referred to the submission from the Human Rights Council under the President regarding the bill and rejected its criticism.

As reported, Russia’s State Duma voted on 23 October to broaden the definition of state treason.  The amendments to the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code introduced by the Cabinet of Ministers back in 2008 were at the initiative of the FSB, with explanation given by FSB official Yury Gorbunov.

The law was passed in full just one month after its first reading, and there is no suggestion that Putin will refuse to sign it into force.

The amendments include a new article (283.1) of the Criminal Code prohibiting not only divulging, but also « receiving information constituting 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”.

Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsperson, has said that the broad definition of State treason contained in the law breaches both Russia’s Constitution and international law.
On 25 October EU High Representative Catherine Ashton stated that: “The new law would expand the scope for prosecution of and reduce the burden of proof for charges of treason and espionage. The abstract definition of treason contained in the law will make it difficult to apply in a fair manner. It also potentially penalizes contacts with foreign nationals with up to 20 years in prison.

The adoption of this law follows a number of legislative and judicial developments in the Russian Federation over the few past months. Taken together, these developments would limit the space for civil society development, and increase the scope for intimidation. We will be monitoring the implementation of this law closely.”

Just some of the laws passed of late are laws labeling NGOs which receive foreign funding as “foreign agents”, blacklisting anti-government websites and imposing draconian fines for what the authorities consider to be infringements of the peace during peaceful demonstrations.

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