RUSSIAN FEDERATION: An umpteenth law in blatantviolation of the most basic international human rights standards
Paris-Geneva,October 29, 2012 – The Observatory for the Protection of Human RightsDefenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights(FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), expresses its graveconcern over the adoption of a new law which might lead to furthercriminalising and stifling civil society in the Russian Federation.
On October 23, 2012, theRussian Duma (the lower chamber of Parliament) adopted a series of amendmentsto the law on treason and espionage, introducing new provisions into theCriminal Code. The new version of the law is now expected to be examined by theCouncil of Federation of the Russian Federation (the upper chamber) and, ifadopted, to be signed by President Vladimir Putin.
The new text expands thedefinition of treason to “providing financial, technical, advisory and otherassistance to a foreign State or international organisation (…) directed atharming Russia's security”, criminalising de facto any contact withany foreign entity by an extremely elevated and disproportionate sanction up to20 years' imprisonment. The vague terms used open the path to discretionaryinterpretations by the authorities, raising further concerns on how the lawwill be enforced.
It is to be noted that inan explanatory memorandum that accompanied the bill, the Federal SecurityBureau (FSB) alleged that foreign secret services were making an “active use” offoreign governmental as well as non-governmental organisations in order to harmthe Russian State's security. This restrictive law was adopted at the end of ahasty legislative process, the Duma having combined its second and thirdreadings.
The Observatory fears that,if enacted as amended, this new version of the law would potentially targethuman rights defenders, who, by the definition of their activities, are broughtto share information on the human rights situation with intergovernmentalorganisations, including the United Nations and the Council of Europe, theOSCE, of which Russia is a member, as well as with their internationalpartners.
The Observatory is all themore concerned as this law marks an umpteenth step in the legislative andjudicial setbacks to the enjoyment of human rights in the Russian Federation.Indeed, over the past months, a series of laws have been adopted one after theother, in blatant violation of basic fundamental freedoms, considerablyundermining the capacities of civil society to operate in the country.
These legislations includethe one adopted in June 2012 that imposes further restrictions on the right tofreedom of peaceful assembly; a law adopted by the Duma on July 11 limitingfreedom of information on the Internet through a list of prohibited websites;and a law adopted on July 13 that criminalises certain forms of libel, addingnew limits to freedom of expression.
During the same month, theDuma also adopted a law imposing all non-commercial organisations (NCOs) whichreceive funds from foreign sources in order to carry out any kind of “politicalactivities”, to register as “foreign agents” before a special governmentalagency. Furthermore, all the information published on their behalf by any meansshould be produced under the notice of a production of a foreign agent. Theinitial draft law provided sanctions, but the latter were removed from the textadopted in July, and new separate amendments are now being examined in order tobe introduced into the Administrative Code. In case of failure to comply withthe numerous requirements imposed by the law on NCOs and “foreign agents”, theentity itself as well as its legal representatives, members and participants,are exposed to a warning and/or to administrative fines ranging from 3,000 to500,000 Roubles (approximately 73 – 12,300 Euros). On October 25, theserepressive amendments were submitted to the Duma.
In addition, betweenSeptember 2011 and August 2012, a series of laws criminalising “homosexualpropaganda” have been adopted by regional and municipal assemblies, restrictingfreedom of expression and putting at risk LGBT human rights defenders andorganisations.
The Observatory is thereforeappalled by the adoption of this new restrictive law on treason and stronglyurges the Council of Federation of the Russian Federation not to approve theseamendments. It calls on President Vladimir Putin not to sign the law if it wereto pass this last legislative step. The Observatory further calls on theRussian authorities to conform with all their international obligations, and inparticular with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998. The Declaration indeed states that “everyonehas the right, individually and in association with others, at the national andinternational levels: […] to communicate with non-governmental orintergovernmental organisations” (Article 5 (c)). The text also guaranteesthe right “to unhindered access to and communication with internationalbodies with general or special competence to receive and considercommunications on matters of human rights and fundamental freedoms” (Article9 (4)). More generally, the Observatory calls on the Russian legislative toreview and amend all the aforementioned restrictive laws.
“These new laws are hanging over the head of all human rights defendersthat operate in Russia, as a sword of Damocles”, deplored SouhayrBelhassen, FIDH President. “The message sent by the government through thesepieces of legislation is not only clearly and openly hostile to a legitimateand courageous work of the civil rights groups in the country, but tends todamage their image and discredit them in the eyes of the the population andmarginalise them.”
“We are extremely concerned bythis series of new laws that aim at restricting fundamental freedoms and atfurther criminalising and silencing Russian human rights defenders. It is of vitalimportance that the Russian authorities put an immediate end to thisunacceptable crackdown on civil society conducted through blatant violations ofthe most basic international human rights standards”, added Gerald Staberock,OMCT Secretary General.
For more information,please contact:
· FIDH: Arthur Manet: +33 1 43 55 25 18
· OMCT: DelphineReculeau: +41 22 809 49 39
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