Expanding FSB powers is a revival of totalitarian state – rights watchdog

The Kremlin’s human rights council has opposed the idea of expanding the Federal Security Service’s (FSB) powers, saying it is anti-constitutional and would be a revival of the worst practices of a “totalitarian state”.

Russia’s presidential Council on Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights has appealed to President Medvedev and suggested that the State Duma “immediately” suspends the process of the adoption of amendments to the law that would give a lot more power to the FSB.

Initiated by the government, the bill would allow the FSB to issue warnings to people it believes are about to commit a crime and threaten, fine, or even arrest for up to 15 days for disobeying its orders.

“The FSB would be allowed to summon citizens and publicly make such warnings. No grounds would be required for such measures to be taken and there would be no need [for the FSB] to follow procedures set by the law for limiting citizens’ freedom,” the presidential human rights watchdog statement reads as published on their website.

The body studied the document and presented to the head of state its legal analysis, which proves that the draft is “anti-constitutional”, and would be a political mistake.

“Such a revival of the worst and illegal practices of a totalitarian state – aimed at spreading fear and distrust among people – can be seen by society only as a suppression of civil freedoms and dissent,” the council stated.

In April the bill was submitted to the lower house, and on June 11 the lawmakers – though only the majority United Russia party – passed the draft in the first of the three required readings. All other factions of the State Duma opposed the law for different reasons. While communists worried that the amendments would violate human rights, liberal-democrats – on the contrary – deemed the draft too soft.

Back then the news rocked the socially active part of Russia’s society, with many seeing the move as a comeback to Soviet-time repressions and direct violation of human rights.

“So far there has been a presumption of innocence in Russia and inflicting a punishment – including administrative one – has only been possible by court decision,” Lev Ponomarev, the chair of organization “For Human Rights”, was quoted as saying by newsru.com. “If a person was taking part in a meeting not permitted by the authorities, one’s fate would be decided by court. There was a hope that – assuming there is no pressure from the state – such procedure of protecting human rights could save us from arbitrariness. What is being suggested is a turn back to the Soviet totalitarian regime,” he stated.

On June 23, following the fierce response from human rights activists, the United Russia faction called for an amendment to the bill, Itar-Tass reported.

FSB considers tougher control over Internet

In a cover letter to the controversial draft, its authors also wrote that “some media outlets – both printed and electronic – openly promote forming negative processes in the spiritual sphere, the settlement of cult of individualism and violence, disbelief in the ability of state to protect its citizens.” Thus, the authors believe, the media “involves young people in extremist activities.”

Journalists and human rights activists were not excited over such statements, seeing it as a possible way to strengthen pressure on the media.

Meanwhile, the FSB is reportedly working on amendments to yet another law – “On Information” – which would oblige internet providers to shut down websites on the prosecutor’s demand – without a court decision. Vedomosti daily writes that the FSB suggests that providers – under a “motivated letter” from a law enforcement agency – would have to close domains. The measures will supposedly be aimed at fighting extremism.

The website, however, would not be closed for more than a month if a case is dropped, or if the court rules that the content of the site is not in violation of the law.

In addition, internet providers could be obliged to keep data on all their users and all the services they got for half a year and provide that information on demand of the law enforcement agencies.