Russian lawmakers are considering proposals that would allow the officers of the Federal Security Service (F.S.B.) to "summon citizens and issue verbal or written warnings that their activities are 'unacceptable' and leading toward a crime, even if no violation has occurred," according to The New York Times today.
Some groups are concerned that this evokes oppressive powers held by F.S.B.'s Soviet-era predecessor, the K.G.B. The proposal has been backed by the government and was sent to the lower house of Parliament (the Duma) over the weekend. The law also proposes fines or 15-day jail terms for those who do not comply with F.S.B.
According to the article:
Issued at a moment of high anxiety about terrorism, the proposals could strengthen the agency’s ability to control information or activities considered “extremist,” a term that has been applied to religious and political groups as well as to journalists. A note accompanying the bill says the F.S.B. has documented increasing radicalism among Russian youths, along with a 30 percent jump in “extremist crimes” from 2007 to 2008.
The note contends that print and electronic media “openly facilitate the formation of negative processes in the spiritual sphere, propagate the cult of individualism, violence and mistrust in the government’s ability to protect its citizens, in effect drawing youth to extremist acts.”
Opposition lawmakers and journalists responded with alarm when parts of the bill appeared in Russian newspapers. The proposal recalls a practice of “official warning” that the K.G.B. frequently employed against dissidents, but that faded away during the Soviet collapse, said Nikita V. Petrov, a historian who has written about the Soviet security services.
Although it is unclear when the bill will come up for a vote, the Times reports that some Russian lawmakers think the bill will be passed.
Opponents worry that this measure means that any dissent may be punished. Viktor I. Ilyukhin, a Communist deputy who serves on the Duma committee on constitutional law, says: "Any citizen can be called an extremist for taking a public position, for political activity. A warning can be given to anyone who criticizes the powers that be. If you print this interview, they will announce that Ilyukhin is an extremist."
♦ Photo of KGB's entrance by Multimotyl/WikiMediaCommons