Vienna, April 26 – The Russian government has sent to the Duma draft legislation that will allow FSB officers to issue warnings and impose fines on anyone they suspect of extremism, a measure the powers that be are justifying as required by the need to combat that evil but one that opposition figures conclude is likely to be directed at all those who disagree with the regime.
According to the government’s press release on Saturday, “Kommersant” reported today, the powers that be believe that FSB officers currently face “certain difficulties in the struggle with extremism” and will be far more effective in the struggle if they can issue “official warnings (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1360739).
As the newspaper points out, “the organs of the FSB even now have the right” to report on what people are doing to other state organizations and to demand that the latter eliminate the threat, but, the press release says, “that right does not give [the FSB] the chance to apply prophylactic measures relative to physical persons” or set punishments.
When “Kommersant” queried on Sunday deputies on the relevant committees of the Duma, members of the ruling United Russia Party “refused to comment, pointing out that they still had not been able to acquaint themselves with the new initiative of the government.” But members of opposition parties were not similar restrained.
Many of them pointed out that what the Russian powers that be want to do for the FSB is “nothing new.” Instead, it is a revival of “the practice of Soviet times,” when the KGB was able to apply force against “not only dissidents but also those who disseminated ‘ideologically harmful’ literature and had ‘harmful’ conversations,” Gennady Gudkov of Just Russia said.
According to Gudkov, “the Chekists used ‘warnings’ in those cases ‘when they had not assembled material for bringing a charge.’” He refused to predict just how the FSB would use similar powers if and when it received them, but the deputy expressed his fear that there would be “misuse.”
Viktor Ilyukhin, deputy chairman of the Duma committee on constitutional law and a member of the KPRF fraction, was more direct. “How could one not be concerned?” he asked. The new measures almost certainly would be used “against anyone ‘who begins to criticize the powers that be.”
Lev Levinson, an expert at the Moscow Human Rights Institute, said that there could be no doubt that the latest measure is directed against dissent, with the references to “extremism” being only a justification. And he suggested that what the government was doing was “unleashing the hands of the officers of the FSB” against the people.