Share This Page

Broadened Russia law concerns advocates of dissent

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 9:08 p.m.

MOSCOW — Adding to fears that the Kremlin aims to stifle dissent, Russians now live under a new law expanding the definition of treason so broadly that critics say it could be used to call anyone who bucks the government a traitor.

The law took effect on Wednesday, just two days after President Vladimir Putin told his human rights advisory council that he was ready to review it. His spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that Putin would be willing to review the treason law if its implementation reveals “some problems or aspects restricting rights and freedoms.”

But what Putin might consider a problem is unclear. His opponents say a series of measures enacted since Putin returned to the Kremlin in May for a third term show he is determined to intimidate and suppress dissidents.

One measure imposes a huge increase in potential fines for participants in unauthorized demonstrations. Another requires non-governmental organizations to register as foreign agents if they both receive money from abroad and engage in political activity. And another gives sweeping power to authorities to ban websites under a procedure critics denounce as opaque.

After fraud-tainted parliamentary elections last December, an unprecedented wave of protest arose, with some demonstrations attracting as many as 100,000 people. Putin still won the March presidential election handily, but the protests boldly challenged his image as the strongman Russia needs to achieve stability and prosperity.

Under the law, anyone who without authorization possesses information deemed a state secret — whether a politician, a journalist, an environmentalist or a union leader — could potentially be jailed for up to 20 years for espionage.

While the previous law described high treason as espionage or other assistance to a foreign state that damages Russia's external security, the new legislation expands the definition by dropping the word “external.” Activities that fall under it include providing help or advice to a foreign state or giving information to an international or foreign organization.

The definition is so broad that rights advocates say it could be used as a driftnet to sweep up all inconvenient figures.

“I believe this law is very dangerous,” said human rights council member Liliya Shibanova, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. Shibanova also heads Golos, Russia's only independent elections watchdog group.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.