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Article on defamation returning to Russia’s Criminal Code

July 09, 2012, 14:14 UTC+3
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United Russia parliamentarians submitted to the State Duma a draft law on supplementing the Criminal Code with an article on defamation. This crime will be punished with fines, which may be increased manifold, correctional labour or imprisonment of up to five years. Meanwhile, parliamentarians themselves took Article 129 away from the Russian Criminal Code to sort it out as an administrative violation at the initiative of then President Dmitry Medvedev last December.

On Friday the chairman of the State Duma legislation committee, Pavel Krasheninnikov, submitted a draft law returning punishment for defamation to the Criminal Code and increasing fines for insulting words and behavior in the Code of Administrative Violations, Vedomosti reported. Decriminalization of defamation is to blame, when some citizens practically unpunished accuse people of committing most serious sins calling them as bandits, terrorists and corruptive persons, he said.

Both articles 120 and 130 were taken from the Criminal Code at the initiative of the Medvedev administration at the end of 2011 to be replaced by an administrative fine of up to 3,000 roubles. The punishment for insulting words will be increased from 3,000 to 50,000 roubles, while criminal responsibility for defamation will depend on the degree of crime. Public defamation or slander in media outlets as well as through the abuse of power increases punishment to 24 months in prison, while a fine will grow to 200,000 roubles. One can get two-three years in prison or a fine up to 500,000 roubles, if defamation is related to a sexual crime or a grave crime.

Krasheninnikov said there was no need to search for a political implication in the draft law, the Kommersant business daily wrote. Nevertheless, human rights activists believe that first of all these initiatives will cover political activists and bloggers. “Human rights activists try to mind their words, journalists can be corrected by editors, while bloggers have a false feeling of safety, therefore they often turn to be a less protected group,” the head of the human rights organization Agora, Pavel Chikov, said. When Article 129 was in force, 221 people were sentenced in 2011 alone, and their number may double, after new amendments enter into effect. “This is evidently a political story,” Chikov said. “The law on non-governmental organizations was developed for human rights activists, while this law is for bloggers and activists.”

“It turns out that Putin systematically cancels all those, even symbolical, relaxations that were made in the legislation during the Medvedev epoch,” the daily quoted political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin as saying. “This concerns non-governmental organizations, which life Medvedev made easier, although slightly, but anyway, and this also concerns defamation as well.”

“This is absolute discrediting for the parliament,” Genry Reznik, Chairman of Moscow City Bar, was cited by Novye Izvestiya as saying. “There are absolutely no grounds to take an article on defamation to the criminal legislation. Defamation in most countries has already been decriminalized and in those countries, where it formally exists in the Criminal Code, it is absolutely unapplied.”

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