Russia lower house approves bill expanding secret police powers

[JURIST] The Russian State Duma [official website, in Russian] on Friday voted 354 to 96 to approve legislation that would allow the country's secret police, the Federal Security Service (FSB) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], to question citizens about their actions related to crimes that have not yet occurred. The KGB [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], predecessor to the FSB, had the authority to conduct similar preemptive questioning, which was often used to intimidate dissidents [NYT report] in the USSR. Under the proposed legislation, the FSB could, without evidence, question and warn citizens [DW report] about the possible commission of future crimes, although the final bill falls short of punishing individuals who ignore the FSB warnings. Rights groups and members of the Russian legal community have condemned the law [press release, in Russian] saying that it legalizes arbitrary detentions by the FSB and that it extends the scope of the FSB beyond its authority. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website] has indicated that he supports the bill [Moscow Times report] and has warned against international interference in Russian lawmaking. The bill must now be approved by the Russian Federation Council [official website, in Russian] before Medvedev can sign it into law.

Russia continues facing criticism from the international community regarding its human rights record. In October, the UN Human Rights Committee [official website] issued a report [text; JURIST report] criticizing Russia's record on human rights and calling on the country to take extensive legal reform in order to guarantee its citizens rights such as fair trials and freedoms of speech and of the press. Last June, the Council of Europe (COE) [official website] urged substantial reforms [JURIST report] to correct systemic problems in the Russian legal system, including the prevalence of political prosecutions and a lack of judicial independence. Medvedev has acknowledged the need for judicial reform [JURIST report], saying that transparent courts would restore faith in the justice system and prevent people from seeking redress in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website].

 

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