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Russia upper house approves bill expanding secret police powers

The Russian Federation Council [official website, in Russian] on Monday approved legislation that will 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 legislation, which was approved last week by the Russian State Duma [JURIST report], the FSB can, without evidence, question and warn citizens [DW report] about the possible commission of future crimes. Citizens who fail to comply with the questioning may be subject to fines or sentenced to up to 15 days in jail. 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 legislation, which was approved in the Federation Council by a vote of 121-1 [AP report], will now be signed into law by Medvedev.

Russia faces ongoing 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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