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Russia rights activists warn new treason law raises Stalinist specter

[JURIST] Russian civil rights activists Wednesday issued a statement warning that a proposed law that would change the definition of treason would allow the government to arrest any government critic [statement text, in Russian]. The proposed legislation extends the definition of treason [Moscow Times report] to include damage to Russia's constitutional order, sovereignty, or territorial integrity. Rights activists including Moscow Helsinki Group [advocacy website, in Russian] leader Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Civic Assistance leader Svetlana Gannushkina, called the move a "terrible blow" and a repetition of the Stalin regime. They called on members of parliament to reject the bill and for President Dmitry Medvedev [official website] not to sign the bill, should it be passed.

There has recently been a trend of increased government power in Russia. Last week, the Russian Duma [official website, in Russian] approved a bill that would end jury trials on charges of terrorism and treason [JURIST report]. In July 2007, then-President Vladimir Putin approved amendments to Russia's law against extremism [JURIST report]. An international panel of jurists reported earlier that year that expanded Russian anti-terrorism laws were leading to human rights abuses [JURIST report]. In 2006, Putin signed a bill giving Russian police and military broad authority [JURIST report] to tap telephone conversations and control electronic communications in the vicinity of counter-terror operations, shoot down hijacked planes threatening public places or strategic facilities, and deal with the aftermath of terrorist attacks.

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