Russian lawmakers approved new legislation concerning the definition of treason, which has many NGOs worried about its impact. The amendment was passed by the Duma (the lower house of parliament) in a vote of 375 out of 450 this past Tuesday. Although President Vladimir Putin must officially sign it, this new definition of treason would make any contact with a foreigner potential grounds for criminal charges.
Under the previous law, only if you had access to state secrets could you be potentially prosecuted. If Putin signs this law into effect, anyone who accidentally comes across a state secret could be prosecuted, even if it is by hearsay means. Additionally, it expands the scope of treason by making it a crime not only to possess state secrets but also to have any part in receiving them, transmitting them, or publishing them.
The law criminalizes aiding foreign states as well as foreign organizations. Anyone found to have undermined Russia’s “constitutional system, sovereignty, [or] territorial and state integrity” will be subject to punishment. The head of the Federal Security Service pushed for the law, stating that it will help uncover international organizations that are used as spies in the country. Many fear that the Federal Security Service will be a driving force in cracking down on this oppressive law. As the successor to the KGB, it leaves many international organizations worried.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief, stated that: “The new law would expand the scope for prosecution and reduce the burden of proof for charges of treason and espionage.” Additionally, Ashton commented that the recent legislation in Russia: “would limit the space for civil society development, and increase the scope for intimidation.”
How do you think the new legislation in Russia will be applied? Should the United States, as a member of many international organizations, be concerned? How would we, or any NGO, combat such legislation? Do you think it is the start of a renewed “Kremlin crackdown”?