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Russia president signs bill expanding secret police powers

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website; JURIST news archive] on Thursday signed into law [press release, in Russian] a bill that will grant controversial new powers to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian Federation's successor to the former USSR's KGB [GlobalSecurity backgrounders]. The bill, which the Russian parliament approved [JURIST report] earlier this month, will give the FSB authority to question citizens about actions that may create the conditions for a crime and issue warnings [DW report] not to engage in unapproved acts. Noncompliance may be punishable by fine or up to 15 days in prison. The KGB had similar authority to engage in preemptive questioning, a power that was often used to intimidate dissidents [NYT report] in the USSR. Rights groups and members of the Russian legal community have condemned the law [press release, in Russian], saying that it legalizes arbitrary detentions and extends the FSB's power beyond its authority.

Russia faces ongoing criticism from the international community regarding its human rights record. In October, the 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 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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