Staunton, July 10 – Yesterday, the Duma, with all but four deputies of the ruling United Russia Party approving and all other deputies opposed, passed on second reading amendments to the FSB law that will allow the special service to issue warnings and impose fines without reference to the courts to prevent crimes even if those so punished have not violated any law.
The measure, which the Duma passed on first reading last month and which is likely to give final approval to on July 16, has both infuriated and emboldened Russia’s opposition groups. On the one hand, they say this measure, if it becomes law, will be used by the powers that be to go after any individual or group they do not like.
But on the other, and despite poll results that showing two-thirds of Russians are not paying any attention to the threats this measure contains, opposition figures are predicting that the expansion of FSB powers will prove counterproductive by sparking a new wave of protests against the regime.
Opposition to the measure has indeed been striking. Not only did all the “systemic” opposition parties, including Just Russia and LDPR vote against the measure, but legal specialists like Genri Reznik of the Social Chamber, Russian Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, and head of the Presidential Council on Human Rights Ella Pamfilova condemned it as well.
Indeed, Lev Ponomarev, the head of the For Human Rights Organization, says in a comment posted online today that he “has not heard a single positive commentary in the public space” about the measure, notwithstanding the support it clearly enjoys from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, United Russia and the FSB (grani.ru/blogs/free/entries/179711.html).
Ponomarev says that human rights groups “are obligated to raise a large campaign of resistance” lest this measure, which undermines the very basis of law by its call for punishment for “impermissible actions which create conditions” for a criminal act, is approved and goes on the books.
“Not in a single law of the Russian Federation are described what conditions create actions,” the rights activist points out. “Imagine,” he says, two cases. In the first, someone “takes an ax and kills another person,” and in the second, an individual is issued a warning as the new FSB measure allows: “Don’t keep an ax in your home.’”
The current measure “is written in such language that any jurist will say: ‘This cannot be!’ This is an absolutely absurd text, although it is obvious that it is dangerous, but even so it is difficult to predict all the dangers which await us” if the legislature passes and the president signs this expansion of FSB powers into law.
In Ponomarev’s view, it represents “a general attack of the FSB on society. The powers that be,” he continues,” are “in a panic and fear mass disorders. Besides, those people who are in power are afraid to lose it. They are afraid of that criticism which is now appearing in public. And since they do not see legal mechanisms [to stop it], they are trying to intimidate.”
The powers that be, he continues, “see that all their past efforts at intimidation have not worked and that people are more and more speaking out against the actions of the powers that be who are cut off from the people. A campaign for the retirement of Putin has begun, with significantly more people signing than the organizers of the campaign expected.”
“People are signing,” he says, because “people have ceased to be afraid.” But the powers that be are now responding. “They are thinking: how else can we intimidate” the population? “They do not know what else to do. Besides, they are playing with Western leaders and want to remain in the G-8 and the G-20 and so on.”
As a consequence, “they need this law. It permits them on the one hand not to put anyone behind bards but on the other to intimidate to the maximum degree. But I think,” Ponomarev concludes, “this will not intimidate anyone regardless of what [the powers that be in Moscow now] think.”
Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of the Duma security committee, agrees. “How the employees of the FSB will use this law for the struggle against extremism is unknown,” he says. But in his view, the measure “will not work as a prophylactic in the present conditions of growing protest activity (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1412055).
Indeed, he says in words quoted by “Kommersant,” “as soon as ‘they begin to apply this law, then the number of opponents of the powers that be will grow geometrically.” What must happen instead, he argues, is the beginning of “a dialogue with society and with the opposition” rather than a new use of force against them.
But Sergey Mitrokhin, the leader of the opposition YABLOKO party, disagrees. He says that he doubts the law will lead to more protests. “People do not understand that the special services want to occupy a place des armes in order to further unleash an attack on society,” he suggests.
And poll results suggest that Mitrokhin may be right. A Levada Center survey found that “only three percent of Russians “are carefully following the discussion of this bill” while “a majority [of two-thirds] of [Russian Federation] citizens [say they] have not heard anything about it” (www.nr2.ru/291387.html).