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Russia's Restrictive Treason Laws

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting of the Valdai international discussion group of experts at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow October 25, 2012. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

“We call upon President Vladimir Putin not to sign this legislation into law.”

Russia’s Parliament approved on October 23 proposed amendments to the law on treason and state secrets, expanding the definition of treasonous activity. The proposal will become law upon Russian President Vladimir Putin’s signature.

Russia's Restrictive Treason Laws
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The expanded definition of treason includes "giving financial, technical, consulting or other help" to foreign countries or international organizations if such a country or organization is found to work against Russian security interests. The wording lends itself to such broad interpretation that any Russian citizen speaking to a foreigner is in danger of being branded a spy. And under Russian law, traitors face up to 20 years in prison.

A separate law, which comes into force in late November, will also require non-governmental organizations whose activities are even partly funded from abroad, to register with the Russian Government as “foreign agents.” These organizations will have to file burdensome quarterly financial reports, and their financial transactions will be subject to the close scrutiny normally reserved for suspected terrorists.

The United States is deeply concerned about the passage of these proposals, said United States Chargé d’Affaires Gary Robbins in a statement to the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“The adoption of these treason law amendments gives rise to serious questions as to their scope and intended application. They are particularly troubling in light of other new laws passed this summer to restrict public assemblies, institute onerous “foreign agent” registration requirements on NGOs, re-criminalize libel, and impose new restrictions on Internet content. These measures appear to be orchestrated to stifle dissent and to discourage Russian citizens from exercising their rights and fundamental freedoms to associate and to assemble peacefully,” said Mr. Robbins.

“The new amendments to the treason law. . . . represent a worrisome pattern of increasing restrictions on civil society and declining respect for human rights in Russia,” said Chargé d’Affaires Robbins. “We call upon President Vladimir Putin not to sign this legislation into law.”