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New tougher punishment for terrorism afoot in Russia

March 03, 2014, 15:34 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Dmitry Rogulin

MOSCOW, March 03. /ITAR-TASS/. Almost any terror attack in Russia is followed by new legislative initiatives. This time, in the aftermath of blasts in Volgograd not far from the North Caucasus on December 29 and 30, 2013 killing 34 and wounding more than 70, deputies of the lower house State Duma frantically set about the so-called counter-terrorism bills. Last Friday, these were adopted in the first reading.

Along with tougher penalties for terror acts, deputies advocate stricter state control over information on the Internet and anonymous money transmissions. These amendments would give more rights to the Federal Security Service (FSB). Some experts, however, believe that these measures are not only scarcely effective in fighting crime but also infringe rights and freedoms of law-abiding citizens.

The first document aiming to improve counter-terrorism activities proposes amendments to the Penal Code and the Code of Administrative Offences. For instance, “propaganda, justification and support” for terrorism will be deemed aggravations. The bill also suggests tougher punishment for crimes “against humanity’s peace and safety”, among them terror attacks, ship or train hijack, attempt at assassinating a state official, violent seizure of power, armed riot and attacking people enjoying international immunity. The draft law also introduces a new element of crime, namely organization of terror-related crimes for which a criminal would face imprisonment of from 15 to 20 years.

Meanwhile, Article 205 of the Penal Code can be expanded with several more clauses that suggest punishment of up to life imprisonment.

The bill gives the FSB rights to personal “examination of people and belongings they have with them if there are reasons to suspect them of committing a crime (wrongdoings)”. So far, this is the right enjoyed only by the police, internal troops, border guards and customs officers.

Another bill aims to “regulate exchange of information” on the Internet. Owners of web sites will be obliged to inform media and telecoms watchdog Roskomnadzor that their sites have started working, or be fined. Data on “receipt, transmission, delivery and processing of voice information, texts, images, sounds” should be stored for six months and be presented at the authorities’ request. This document provoked the strongest outrage in society as it would closely affect any person using the Internet.

The third initiative proposes more rigorous requirements to online money transmissions, mainly those made anonymously. Law-makers propose a maximum online account balance of 5,000 rubles ($1=36.4roubles) against the current 15,000 rubles and one-time transmission of 1,000 rubles and no more than 15,000 rubles (against the current 40,000) a month. All this only affects payments made in Russia as the bill excludes all cross-border anonymous transmissions. Yet the amendments will not affect online trade.

“Each of the bills considered was drawn up by deputies of all four parliamentary factions. The increasing terrorist threat made us join efforts and put aside political differences,” said Legislation Committee Deputy Chairman Alexander Remezkov.

“Undoubtedly, lawmakers took into account foreign counter-terrorism experience, in particular experience of Israel as one of the countries most often facing terrorist threat,” one of the authors, Communist deputy Oleg Denisenko, told the online paper VZGLYAD.

He admitted “the measures proposed may be initially not very popular” but asked “to understand this is made for the people’s benefit”.

Even so, some experts are skeptical about the initiatives. They would introduce double standards to the criminal law and thus wobble the whole justice system, lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov told Vedomosti daily. The quality of investigation was poor, and there were no guarantees that innocent people were not persecuted, he said. Besides, he added, investigators often imputed terrorism-related crimes as they found it more convenient. Experts of the analytical centre Sova (Owl) find the measures superfluous.

“The government already has levers to fight terrorism, and there is a need not for tougher regulation, but for effective use of existing instruments and the search for solutions of social problems that give rise to terrorism activities,” says the statement on Sova’s site.

Experts believe stricter supervision of people’s activities on the Internet “brings nothing new to the point” while tougher control over online finances “will not help track entire financial flows”. Furthermore, the amendments would affect freedom of speech, privacy and people’s economic activities.

New requirements for site owners are the part that puzzles most, Sova’s Director Alexander Verkhovsky is quoted by Novya Izvestia daily as saying.

“They are certainly impossible to fulfill. Site registration is such a large-scale activity now that it is unclear how it can be controlled at all. When such impossible requirements are in question, one can say almost for sure they will be applied selectively,” he said.


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