Just two days after President Putin promised his Human Rights Council that he would review his treason law and other legislation, he signed the treason bill into law.
Putin seems bound and determined to make things as difficult as possible for any opponents of his regime. Another recent law slaps those participating in unauthorized demonstrations with much higher fines than previously. Another bill will require NGO's that receive any foreign funds to register as foreign agents if they participate in political activity. A third bill gives Russian authorities wide powers to ban websites. These laws have all been introduced since Putin returned for a third term as president in May.
A spokesperson for Putin, Dmitry Peskov, said that the president would be willing to review the treason law if, when implemented, it reveals "some problems or aspects restricting rights and freedoms". However, it is not clear what, if anything, Putin would consider a problem in restricting rights and freedoms. The bill itself seems to do that.
After the last parliamentary elections a year ago in December, there were many protests, some of them as large as 100,000 people. Putin was still able to win the March presidential elections however.
Under the new treason law, any person possessing information classified as a state secret without authorization whether a politician, journalist, environmentalist, or union leader could be jailed up to 20 years for espionage. This could be used against whistle blowers. An earlier law had described espionage or other assistance to a foreign state that damaged Russia's external security as high treason, but this law drops the word "external". Some of the activities listed include providing help or advice to a foreign state or even giving information to an international organization. Human rights groups claim that the terms are much too broad and could be used simply to charge those challenging the government.
Lilya Shibanova, a member of the Russian human rights council, said:"I believe this law is very dangerous.If, for example, I pass on information about alleged poll violations to a foreign journalist, this could be considered espionage." Shibanova is also a member of a group that monitors election in Russia. Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch also said that the law was too broad and was dangerous. While it remains to be seen how strictly the law will be enforced she said that the bill creates a "sense of paranoia and suspicion and uneasiness about foreigners". Putin often calls opposition leaders pawns of the West and has even accused U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of inciting protests in order to weaken Russia. While no doubt other countries do try to intervene and influence Russian political processes, this is hardly reason to restrict freedoms in the way Putin's legislation does.
The law was apparently drafted by the Federal Security Service the main successor to the Soviet era KGB. The new law also makes mere possession of state secrets a crime punishable with a sentence of up to 8 years, even if the secrets are not passed on to foreigners. The spy agency said that:"Tactics and methods of foreign special services have changed, becoming more subtle and disguised as legitimate actions. Claims about a possible twist of spy mania in connection with the law's passage are ungrounded and based exclusively on emotions."
The bill had come up originally in 2008 while Dmitry Medvedev was president. After strong public criticism Medvedev simply shelved the bill. However Putin pushed ahead with the bill and signed it into law.
Tamara Morshchakova, who is a former judge of the Constitutional Court, said that the new law is so broad that FSB will no longer need to prove that a person charged actually inflicted any damage on national security: "Their goal was simple: We have few traitors, it's difficult to prove their guilt, so it's necessary to expand it. Now they don't have to prove it any more. An opinion of law enforcement agencies would suffice."
Putin seems never to be satisfied with the fact that he probably has enough public support to be elected fair and square. Putin wants to control the whole system to make sure that he will stay in power even if the public should turn against him in sufficient numbers to vote him out of office.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com