An umpteenth law in blatant violation of the most basic international human rights standards

Urgent Appeal
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The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), expresses its grave concern over the adoption of a new law which might lead to further criminalising and stifling civil society in the Russian Federation.

On October 23, 2012, the Russian Duma (the lower chamber of Parliament) adopted a series of amendments to the law on treason and espionage, introducing new provisions into the Criminal Code. The new version of the law is now expected to be examined by the Council of Federation of the Russian Federation (the upper chamber) and, if adopted, to be signed by President Vladimir Putin.

The new text expands the definition of treason to “providing financial, technical, advisory and other assistance to a foreign State or international organisation (…) directed at harming Russia’s security”, criminalising de facto any contact with any foreign entity by an extremely elevated and disproportionate sanction up to 20 years’ imprisonment. The vague terms used open the path to discretionary interpretations by the authorities, raising further concerns on how the law will be enforced.

It is to be noted that in an explanatory memorandum that accompanied the bill, the Federal Security Bureau (FSB) alleged that foreign secret services were making an “active use” of foreign governmental as well as non-governmental organisations in order to harm the Russian State’s security. This restrictive law was adopted at the end of a hasty legislative process, the Duma having combined its second and third readings.

The Observatory fears that, if enacted as amended, this new version of the law would potentially target human rights defenders, who, by the definition of their activities, are brought to share information on the human rights situation with intergovernmental organisations, including the United Nations and the Council of Europe, the OSCE, of which Russia is a member, as well as with their international partners.

The Observatory is all the more concerned as this law marks an umpteenth step in the legislative and judicial setbacks to the enjoyment of human rights in the Russian Federation. Indeed, over the past months, a series of laws have been adopted one after the other, in blatant violation of basic fundamental freedoms, considerably undermining the capacities of civil society to operate in the country.

These legislations include the one adopted in June 2012 that imposes further restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly; a law adopted by the Duma on July 11 limiting freedom of information on the Internet through a list of prohibited websites; and a law adopted on July 13 that criminalises certain forms of libel, adding new limits to freedom of expression.

During the same month, the Duma also adopted a law imposing all non-commercial organisations (NCOs) which receive funds from foreign sources in order to carry out any kind of “political activities”, to register as “foreign agents” before a special governmental agency. Furthermore, all the information published on their behalf by any means should be produced under the notice of a production of a foreign agent. The initial draft law provided sanctions, but the latter were removed from the text adopted in July, and new separate amendments are now being examined in order to be introduced into the Administrative Code. In case of failure to comply with the numerous requirements imposed by the law on NCOs and “foreign agents”, the entity itself as well as its legal representatives, members and participants, are exposed to a warning and/or to administrative fines ranging from 3,000 to 500,000 Roubles (approximately 73 – 12,300 Euros). On October 25, these repressive amendments were submitted to the Duma.

In addition, between September 2011 and August 2012, a series of laws criminalising “homosexual propaganda” have been adopted by regional and municipal assemblies, restricting freedom of expression and putting at risk LGBT human rights defenders and organisations.

The Observatory is therefore appalled by the adoption of this new restrictive law on treason and strongly urges the Council of Federation of the Russian Federation not to approve these amendments. It calls on President Vladimir Putin not to sign the law if it were to pass this last legislative step. The Observatory further calls on the Russian authorities to conform with all their international obligations, and in particular with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998. The Declaration indeed states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: […] to communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organisations” (Article 5 (c)). The text also guarantees the right “to unhindered access to and communication with international bodies with general or special competence to receive and consider communications on matters of human rights and fundamental freedoms” (Article 9 (4)). More generally, the Observatory calls on the Russian legislative to review and amend all the aforementioned restrictive laws.

“These new laws are hanging over the head of all human rights defenders that operate in Russia, as a sword of Damocles”, deplored Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. “The message sent by the government through these pieces of legislation is not only clearly and openly hostile to a legitimate and courageous work of the civil rights groups in the country, but tends to damage their image and discredit them in the eyes of the the population and marginalise them.”

“We are extremely concerned by this series of new laws that aim at restricting fundamental freedoms and at further criminalising and silencing Russian human rights defenders. It is of vital importance that the Russian authorities put an immediate end to this unacceptable crackdown on civil society conducted through blatant violations of the most basic international human rights standards”, added Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.

For more information, please contact:
· FIDH: Arthur Manet: +33 1 43 55 25 18
· OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: +41 22 809 49 39

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