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Paper Review: Treason Scare
October 28, 2012 11:57

The proposed new bill on high treason and espionage, pushed quickly through the State Duma this week, has made a splash in the media, both domestic and international. Russia-IC looks at the different voices from around the world – which in fact don’t differ that much.

Official statements


In a knee-jerk reaction, the EU has come out to express its concern over the bill that expands the scope for prosecution and intimidation and reduces the ‘burden of proof’ for such charges.


“The abstract definition of treason contained in the law will make it difficult to apply in a fair manner,” reads an official statement by the spokesperson of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

The EU puts the new bill in a broader context of other legislative and judicial development that would possibly ‘limit the space for civil society development’.

Media choir


From a media perspective, the BBC points out to the pace the bill was rammed through the lower house of the Russian parliament, and reminds its readers of last month’s expulsion of USAID from the country on suspicion that it meddled in domestic politics.


RFE/RL also cites Russian activists as saying that any complaints to international institutions like the UN Commission on Human Rights or the European Court of Human Rights could be seen by the FSB, or the Federal Security Service, as high treason now, if they view the information as threatening Russia’s national security.


According to RFE/RL, the only faction that opposed the amendments to the Criminal Code was that of the Fair Russia party who believes it’s wrong to cast any Russian citizen who has ‘any contacts with any foreigner’ as betrayers.


The Voice of America’s headline read ‘Political Winter Descends on Russia’, implying a broader analysis of the political environment.


The new bill is in line with the latest series of laws adopted by the parliament, signaling a ‘

Igor Kolyapin, head of the Nizhny Novgorod-based Committee Against Torture, as saying.


In his interview to the FT, journalist Andrey Soldatov made an interesting point – the authorities don’t actually need to enforce the law, its mere existence on the books is expected to prevent anyone with a voice from sticking their necks out and force the media to introduce self-censorship.


The Huffington Post’s Rachel Denber cites the Pussy Riot case as one example when laws restricting freedom of expression have been broadly used to suppress dissent.

The author also says the amendments are a step back to the Soviet system of justice, when article 58 of the Criminal Code referring to ‘assistance to the "international bourgeoisie" was commonly used against dissidents. 

NGOs up in arms


Human rights groups have also been vocal on the issue, with the Civil Rights Defenders warning the bill is a fundamental threat to human rights in the country and giving the same argument as the press mentioned earlier of why it basically affects anyone in this country.


Human Rights Watch called on the Russian president not to sign the bill into law.


“Many Russian groups – like their counterparts in other countries – meet frequently and openly with foreign officials to talk about the human rights situation in Russia,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe director at HRW. “Is this something the government will label ‘harmful’ to Russia’s security?”


Opening a criminal case for alleged treason, even for passing open source data, could be used to paralyze a critic or political adversary, Human Rights Watch said.


It also made clear the move comes along with public smear campaigns on state television targeting prominent political opposition figures.   


The group called on the Council of Europe to study the law for compatibility with Russia’s commitments under the European Convention and respond before Russia’s ‘civil society is dismantled’.


Now let’s look at the top tweets about the newly approved bill:

Charity & Security ‏@CharitySecurity - #Russia NGOs warn new law on State Secrets and the expanded definition of high treason as a tool for repression

Björn van Roozendaal ‏@bvroozendaal - As I'm on my way to Russia: “@hrw#Russia: New #treason law part of #Putin’s effort to crack down on civil society  

Chuck Mertz ‏@thisishellradio - US world's top oil producer, Russia's scary new treason law

Henri Johna ‏@HenriJohna - Putin just initiated a new law against treason, Romney says that Russia is America's biggest enemy. We are on our way back to the cold war.

Sarah Schlesinger ‏@SarahJSchles - Russia continues on the right track (sarcasm) by enacting a new treason law that threatens the most basic human rights

Kenneth Roth @KenRoth -  Russia says overbroad treason law needed since to assist international organization is to threaten national security.

Author: Mikhail Vesely

Tags: Russian laws State Duma Pussy Riot society  

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