Dissent = Treason

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Oh joy! In Russia government authorities have now submitted a law to the Duma (parliament) designed to re-define the legal definition of treason. Up to now that has been defined simply as “activities carried out with the aim of damaging internal security,” but the Kremlin proposes to change that to “any act carried out with the intention of threatening the security of the Russian Federation, including its constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial and state integrity.” This news comes from the Czechs, who have a considerable stock of their own of both experience with the Russians and of laws equating opposing the State to treason. Specifically, it comes from an article in the largest-circulation non-tabloid daily, Mladá fronta dnes: Kremlin wants law to forbid criticism of state. (The article has multiple references to a treatment of the issue in the London Times, but all that I found on-line was this, which covers the separate issue of a recently-approved bill in the Duma that ended trial-by-jury for terror and treason cases.)

The important thing to note here is that, while this is so far only a legislative proposal, it is certain to become Russian law, given how packed the Duma is (two-thirds) with supporters of the Government, specifically with members of the ruling United Russia party. But it goes even further, also outlawing any provision of financial, material, or technical aid or advice to “suspicious” foreign organizations. What makes a foreign organization “suspicious”? When it is after state secrets. In practice, this means that Russian citizens can get in trouble even for talking with foreigners, and certainly for contacting any outside journalists.

As cherry-on-the-top, the Mladá fronta dnes article features some comments on those who would be “traitors” to the Russian state from Andrei Lugovoy. He’s the one, you might recall, whom Scotland Yard strongly suspects to be the killer (by radioactive polonium 210) of the anti-Putin KGB renegade Alexander Litvinenko, but whom Russia refuses to extradite to the UK. With his legal safety extra-protected by his status as Duma representative, Lugovoy feels no particular reason to shut up, and the article quotes him telling the Spanish newspaper El País that, if it were up to him, “traitors” would simply be executed: “If someone caused serious damage to the Russian state, he should be disposed of.”

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