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Russia's Federation Council approves laws stirring public debate

July 19, 2012, 14:00 UTC+3
On Wednesday the Federation Council approved laws granting a “foreign agent” status to non-profit organizations financed from abroad
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MOSCOW, July 19 (Itar-Tass) — On Wednesday the Federation Council approved laws granting a “foreign agent” status to non-profit organizations financed from abroad, returning an article on defamation to the Criminal Code and creating the blacklist of banned websites. Thus, the upper house of Russian parliament ignored a request from the chairman of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, to delay their approval.

Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko noted that the laws were adopted not because “somebody wants to toughen the legislation,” but because “on the one hand, we democratized different spheres of life and on the other hand – these processes (activities of non-profit organizations, information on the Internet and dissemination of deliberately false information) were not regulated legislatively.” To a greater degree these laws are “of a preventive nature” – “if you do not defame or libel, there will be no claims against you.”

Ratification of the Protocol on Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization was approved by an absolute majority of senators with three votes against, the Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily reported. Economic Development Minister Andrei Belousov noted that Russia will become a WTO member on September 1.

The Vedomosti business daily believes that the parliament backpedals on laws initiated by former president Dmitry Medvedev. Legislative initiatives put forward by Medvedev are cancelled; not adopted or shelved at the State Duma. On Wednesday the Federation Council rejected a draft law on the single voting day approving all other laws, the daily wrote.

At their final session on Wednesday senators unanimously approved all draft laws, including those on foreign agents and web filters that stir public debate, rejecting just one – on the single voting day to be held on the second Sunday of September. The law was initiated by the Liberal Democratic Party, which was later supported by then-president Dmitry Medvedev. This law was approved by the State Duma in three readings. The Federation Council’s committee on constitutional legislation said in its conclusion that regions have not studied the final version of the draft law, it is difficult to conduct election campaign in summer and some norms contradict the effective legislation.

There are no political motives; the Federation Council simply cannot submit inferior laws to the president for signing, speaker Valentina Matviyenko told reporters after the parliamentary session. But regions had taken part in debates and had supported the draft law on the single voting day, the chairman of the Duma constitutional legislation committee, Vladimir Pligin, assured.

The Federation Council also approved the return of an article on defamation to the Criminal Code, from where it was withdrawn at the initiative of Dmitry Medvedev last year. The upper house voted for taking this article out of the Criminal Code just last October, senator Valery Sudarikov said with bewilderment. But Matviyenko cut him short proposing to cast his vote.

Other significant initiatives of Medvedev that were submitted for consideration during his presidency remain shelved at the State Duma, the daily reported. A draft law on new rules for the State Duma’s formation has not been approved even in the first reading. The second reading of draft laws on public control over observance of orphan children’s rights and the parties’ right to revoke their members of election commissions were postponed. Coordination of a new version of the Civil Code is protracted. This also concerns Medvedev’s initiatives on reducing inquest time to 15 days and cancelling the presence of attending witnesses. Moreover, a draft law on a vacant parliamentary mandate coordinated with Medvedev was rejected.

All this strongly weakens positions of Prime Minister Medvedev: it turns out that the party, which he leads, ignores his initiatives, political scientist Alexei Makarkin said. The elite keep a close watch on the agenda and it is evident for all that in fact, President Vladimir Putin has initiated the counter-reform.

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