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Russia upper house approves bill to increase treason penalties

Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council [official website, in Russian], approved a bill on Wednesday that would increase the penalties for illegal use of state secrets. The bill, which was approved [JURIST report] by Russia's lower house last week raises the fine for illegally using state secrets from $6000 to $16000, imposes prison terms of up to four years and expands the scope of treason legislation [UPI report] to include international organizations. Critics of the bill have expressed concern [RIA Novosti report] that its language is unclear and gives the government too much power to suppress dissent. The bill will now go to President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian], who is expected to sign it into law.

The Russian government has been cracking down on dissent in recent months. Members of Russian feminist rock band Pussy Riot [RASPI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] were given two-year prison sentences after they were convicted [JURIST report] in August of hooliganism in connection with "guerrilla performance" of a protest song in February at the altar of downtown Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. Since the beginning of the trial [JURIST report], the group's lawyers and human rights groups have said the charges were politically motivated by Putin to discredit his opposition. In July Putin signed a bill into the law that re-criminalizes slander and libel in the country after signing into law [JURIST reports] a bill that labels all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive foreign funding as "foreign agents" and requires them to register with the Justice Ministry just a week earlier.

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