International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
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Open Letter to the Leaders of the G8: New and Dangerous Amendment to the Russian Anti-extremist Legislation
Vienna, 3 July 2006
Dear leaders of the G8,
In the wake of the upcoming G8 Summit in St. Petersburg, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) would like to draw your attention to a draft law at the Russian State Duma, which represents a grave threat for civil liberties, in particular for associations and media in the Russian Federation. Despite the major importance of this piece legislation adopted in first reading on 28 June, no opportunity is left for a public debate because the second reading of this bill is due to be held on 5 July.
On 28 June 2006, the State Duma of the Russian Federation adopted in its first reading an amendment to the 2002 Federal Law “On Countering Extremist Activity”. The law as such has been severely criticized, by human rights defenders and experts as it combined an excessively broad definition of “extremism” in combination with excessively harsh sanctions provided against individuals, organizations, and the media. However, the new amendments proposed make the already broad and vague definition of extremism even broader.
Particularly worrisome are three amendments foreseeing that:
a) the definition of extremism shall include libel against state officials related to accusation in extremism or in a particularly grave crime;
b) any act of violence (incl. hooliganism) against an official shall qualify as extremism; and
c) not only calls to extremist activity but also “justifications” of extremist activity will be banned.
Together with our Russian colleagues, we ask for the second reading of the draft legislation to be postponed in order to allow for public debate, and urge for the above-mentioned dangerous provisions to be eliminated from the draft.
The international community, including the G-7 and the Russian Federation itself, should treat these concerns seriously. The existing Russian anti-extremism legislation has been increasingly used for disproportionate and illegitimate curtailment of civil rights, and the new proposed amendments further increase the gravity of the situation.
IHF Deputy Executive Director
Attachment: 29 June Statement by a Group of Russian Human Rights Defenders
Russian Human Rights Defenders Express Grave Concern over a New and Dangerous Amendment to the Federal Anti-extremist Legislation
Russian human rights defenders and experts have been persistently expressing their concerns in connection with the Federal Law “On Countering Extremist Activity” which was adopted in 2002. This piece of legislation combines an excessively broad definition of “extremism” and excessively harsh sanctions provided against individuals, organizations, and media. To note, in practice the harshness of the law hasn’t resulted in making the struggle against extremist more effective. At the same time, in the past four years, the anti-extremist legislation has been used with increasing frequency for disproportionate and even illegitimate curtailment of civil rights.
Hence, we are now gravely distressed over the fact that on June 28, 2006, the State Duma of the Russian Federation adopted in first reading an amendment to the aforesaid law, which makes the already broad and vague definition of extremism even broader
Some of the introduced sub-definitions are quite reasonable but three of them call for special concern:
1) In accordance with the new amendment, the definition of extremism shall include libel against state officials related to accusation in extremism (as defined by relevant federal law) or in a particularly grave crime. Libel is a criminal offense and a fact of libel must be essentially determined by a court of law within the framework of relevant criminal procedures. However, the Law “On Countering Extremist Activity” is not part of the Russian criminal law and it is quite likely that the fact of libel will be determined in administrative procedures against an organization or a media-body. Thus, de facto, public accusation of officials in corruption (which constitutes a grave crime) or in extending patronage to ultranationalists and many other such accusations may become banned.
2) Any act of violence against an official shall qualify as extremism. At the same time, it is quite evident that certain actions of that kind - although definitely illegal – perpetrated by a member of an organization or a group don’t always signify that the given organization or group is of any social danger. Those actions may be of purely common character (hooliganism, etc) or take place within the framework of forced dispersal of public rallies.
3) Thirdly, not only calls to extremist activity but also justifications of extremist activity will be banned. In connection with the continuously broadening definition of extremism, this means that non-violent acts of civil disobedience or justification of a priest/preacher who insists on uniqueness and superiority of the followers of his religion will qualify as extremism.
The aforesaid draft law represents a grave threat for civil liberties, and particularly for associations and media. And the recent state efforts to suppress such independent bodies force us to treat this threat very seriously.
It is evident that the second reading of this draft amendment should be proceeded by a broad public debate. There is no justification for such rush actions aimed to limit civil liberties. However, according to our sources, the second reading has already been scheduled for the 5th of July this year, which preclude the very possibility of relevant public discussion as well as the elaboration of some changes to the amendment.
We believe it imperative to have the second reading of the draft legislation postponed and to have the aforesaid dangerous provisions eliminated from the draft. Therefore, we call the attention of the international community to the given situation and hope that the G7 states will back our concerns on the eve of the St Petersburg Summit.
Alexander Verkhovsky, SOVA Center
Galina Kozhevnikova, SOVA Center
Tanya Lokshina, Demos Center
Oleg Orlov, Human Rights Center “Memorial”
Tatiana Kasatkina, Human Rights Center “Memorial”
Alexei Simonov, Glasnost Foundation
Yuri Dzhiblades, Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights
Natalia Taubina, Public Verdict Foundation
Andrei Blinushov, “Memorial” Society of Ryazan
Yulia Sereda, “Karta” Journal
Nina Tagankina, Moscow Helsinki Group
Alexei Simonov, Glasnost Defense Foundation
Arsenii Roginskii, “Memorial” Society
Sergei Lukashevskii, Demos Center
Andrei Kalikh, Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights
Ida Kuklina, Union of the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee