Treason Bill Gathers Momentum in Duma
ĹThe bill has a very broad definition of treason,ĺ said human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov.
Published: September 26, 2012 (Issue # 1728)
MOSCOW ŚáTheáState Duma tentatively approved aábill lastáFriday toábroaden theálegal definition ofáhigh treason, seen byáhuman rights groups as part ofáa continuing crackdown onáforeign-funded organizations ináRussia.
While lawmakers contend that theábill would make theáwork of law enforcement authorities more effective, rights activists say it would enable theástate toáundermine theáactivity ofáany person or NGO ináthe country.
According toáthe bill, which passed its first reading with unanimous approval, any individual or group found relaying aástate secret toáa ôforeign government or international, foreign organizationö can be charged with high treason, punishable with up toá20 years ináprison.
Last week, theáU.S. Agency foráInternational Development announced that it would cease its activities ináRussia after theágovernment accused it ofáusing funds toáinfluence elections. As ofáNov. 20, aánew law will compel all organizations receiving money fromáabroad toáregister as ôforeign agents.ö
Prominent human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov said theácurrent bill, which would apply toáacts ôundermining national security, constitutional order, territorial or state integrity,ö could be used toáconsider any opposition activity dangerous.
ôThe bill has very broad definitions ofátreason andáespionage,ö he said. ôWhile previously only those who had official access toáNational Security Information could be brought toátrial forádisclosing it, now everyone who accidentally becomes aware ofásecret information can be convicted.ö
ôThe previously passed bills [on non-governmental organizations] andáthe bill currently under consideration are parts ofáthe same chain strapped toáthe neck ofáNGOs,ö said Alexander Nikitin, head ofáthe St. Petersburg branch ofáBellona, anáinternational environment protection agency.
Nikitin was charged with treason foráreporting about nuclear safety toáBellona iná1996. ôIn fact,ö he added, ôthe amendments will allow theáFederal Security Service toáprosecute people working ináNGOs forátheir professional activity.ö
Backers say theábill would facilitate aácrackdown onáespionage.
ôWe should include international organizations onáthe list ofáagents that can be charged with treason due toáthe fact that foreign intelligence agencies actively use them toácamouflage their spying activity,ö FSB deputy head Yury Gorbunov told theáDuma onáFriday, Interfax reported.
Gorbunov claimed that theábill would distinguish between espionage asáhigh treason andáespionage as aácrime committed byáa foreign citizen, andáwould allow prosecution ofáinternational organizations accused ofásuch aácrime.
Iná2004, nuclear specialist Igor Sutyagin was convicted ofáespionage forárevealing purportedly classified information toáa London-based company, even though theáinformation was publicly available, rights activist Ponomaryov said.
ôSutyagin was charged illegally then, but this new bill would allow him toábe considered guilty,ö Ponomaryov said.
Also onáFriday, Radio Liberty/RFE announced that it would cease AM radio broadcasting ináMoscow onáNov. 10 andáswitch over toámultimedia Internet broadcasting, said Yelena Glushkova, head ofáthe radio stationĺs Russian office.
Glushkova said theádecision was due toánew legislation that bans radio broadcasting byácompanies more than 48 percent owned byáforeign individuals or legal entities.
TheáMemorial human rights group said Friday ináa statement that it would not register as aáforeign agent with theáJustice Ministry, even though itáreceived grants fromáUSAID.á
Earlier, theáMoscow Helsinki Group andáthe ForáHuman Rightsámovement repeatedly said they would not register byálate November when theárespective law comes intoáeffect.