As Russian lawmakers prepare to vote on a bill that expands the definition of treason, human rights activists Russia are gravely concerned that the legislation could be used to justify repression. In an open appeal to lawmakers and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, prominent figures in the human rights community equate the bill with Stalin-era persecution and the Great Terror of the 1930s. The law, they argue, is too vague, and could target critics of the government. Read the full statement below.
The Russian Justice System is Being Returned to Totalitarianism
Only recently, the Russian justice system was dealt a grave blow, which in many ways canceled the achievements of the legal reforms of the early 90s. A whole of seven articles of the criminal code (the so-called crimes against the state) were released from the right to a jury trial by the State Duma.
Yet the authorities did not rest with their achievement, and are hurriedly continuing to eliminate those democratic elements still present in the criminal code. The Government has proposed to radically expand the definition of treason (art. 275 of the RF CC [Russian Federation Criminal Code]). Having refused the highly significant and subjective “desire to damage the country’s defense”, [the new definition] regards government treason not as activities, but as a single act against Russia’s security, including her “Constitutional order, sovereignty, territoriality and national integrity.” The understanding of espionage (art. 276 of the RF CC) has also been seriously changed – [authorities] even want to add on advisory “and other” assistance to foreign organizations.
This is a very dangerous and consequential development. If we express its significance concisely, it returns the Russian justice system to the norms of the 1920-1950s. Then, any independent estimate of the situation in the country or its separate areas, not to say criticism of the regime and unsanctioned association with foreigners, was estimated as treason against the motherland.
The creation of modern democratic rights came, not after all else, but when a clear distinction was made between serving an armed enemy and speaking out against the government and the established order. It was not for nothing that revolutionaries from different countries named themselves “patriots” – and even their most zealous opponents did not doubt their patriotism.
Only old world and medieval rulers combined the concept of speaking out against authorities with switching to the enemy’s side.
The drive to legally change speech against the regime and exposing violations of rights and freedoms into helping the country’s enemies signifies the return to the darkest totalitarian methods of combating dissidence.
Several years ago, when authorities immensely expanded the definition of “extremism,” our country was immediately flooded with persecution of dissidence. All the while, the actual number of racist crimes has grown by leaps and bounds.
But now, not only opposition activity, but even just reporting on what happens in the country is equated with serving enemy powers. The proposed law does not define those activities which are classified as criminal: for instance, “activities against the Constitutional order and state integrity (as distinguished from “territoriality”). Furthermore, sanctions against “forcible seizure of power” and “rebellion” already exist (articles 278 and 279 of the RF CC).
82 years ago, the overzealous leaders of bolshevism already equated their party rivals with “enemies of the people,” pronouncing any dissidence to be a grave political crime. The Great Terror started with this, and took away the lives of millions of our fellow citizens, including nearly all the authors of the sadly well-known 58th article of the Criminal Code. Several years later, a comparable law was adopted in the Third Reich.
An now, half a century later, this horrible language is being returned – as an almost complete repeat of the old [wording], which was created to justify totalitarian “cleansing” and widespread massacres. The only difference: the bill’s authors didn’t have the heart to make [people] criminally responsible for their relatives, and membership in the Council of Europe interferes with restoring the death penalty.
We want to warn the current leaders of the country and the deputies, that by opening the door for political repressions in such an obscene haste, they themselves greatly risk falling under that punitive grindstone. Who knows, will their successors count activities like reviewing the Constitution to be treason; or keeping state reserves in foreign currencies; or passing [disputed] border islands to neighboring countries; or concealing the after-effects of ecological disasters; or belonging to a system rife with corruption?
Since the proposed law touches on the fate of the country, we insist that before voting takes place, parliamentary hearings involving the most respected members of the legal and human rights communities be held. The “voting machine” must not simply be turned on. We call on deputies who feel responsibility for Russia’s future to dismiss the given legislation. In any event, the President of the Russian Federation, as a guarantor of rights and freedoms, must not sign it.
We call on politicians and public figures, civil servants and people from the public, intellectuals – to step out together against the adoption of laws acting in the spirit of Stalin and Hilter.
We reserve the right to appeal directly to the people of the Russian Federation, with a call to stop a new “nineteen thirty seven.”
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Svetlana Gannushkina, Citizen’s Assistance Committee
Sergei Kovalev, Memorial
Lev Levinson, Institute for Human Rights
Lev Ponomarev, For Human Rights Movement
Yury Samodurov, Co-Chair of the All-Russian Citizen’s Congress
Yury Ryzhkov, Academic of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Chair of the Public Committee for the Protection of Scientists.
Ernst Cherniy, executive secretary of the Public Committee for the Protection of Scientists
Andrei Buzin, Interregional Voters Union
Sergei Davidis, Union for Solidarity with Political Prisoners
Alexei Prigarin, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party- Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Dmitri Belomestnov, journalist
Yevgeny Ikhlov, journalist
Viktor Sheinis, member of the Political Committee of YABLOKO
Alla Nazimova, sociologist
Boris Vishnevsky, correspondent for the Novaya Gazeta, member of the Bureau of YABLOKO
Mikhail Shneider, executive secretary of the Solidarity political advisory committee
Antuan Arakelyan, Chair of the Saint-Petersburg Dialogue and Action Coalition
Vadim Prokhorov, attorney
The Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg
Natalya Yevdokimova, executive secretary of the Human Rights Council
Aleksandr Golts, journalists
Grigory Amnuel, International Dialogue open club.
David Gorelishvili, human rights activist
Anatoly Rekant, Chair of the Center Division of the For Civil Rights Committee
Nikolai Sorokin, historian, Kostorma
O.I. Orlov, Sergei Buryanov, Sergei Mozogovy, members of the executive committee of the All-Russian Civilian Congress
Yury Brovchenko, Glastnost Foundation
Signatures are being collected at firstname.lastname@example.org