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Irina Yarovaya's ‘anti-terrorist’ war on civil rights This Friday, Russian lawmakers will vote on some of the harshest legislation in post-Soviet history

Meduza
State Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya.
State Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya.
Photo: Grigory Sysoev / Sputnik / Scanpix / LETA

On June 24, 2016, Russia's State Duma will vote on the second and third readings of a set of “anti-terrorist” laws drafted by deputy Irina Yarovaya and Senator Viktor Ozerov. The legislation would amend nearly a dozen different laws, broadly expanding the state's powers, tightening the controls placed on citizens and limiting the civil rights guaranteed by the Russian Constitution. If the legislation is approved (which is almost certain), Russia's authorities will gain the power to strip Russians of their citizenship, revoke the foreign travel rights of people convicted of reposting certain “wrong” content online, and access every single telephone conversation and email that crosses Russia's telecommunications lines. Meduza looks at the most important pieces of this historic legislation.

The authorities will be able to revoke Russians' citizenship for working in international organizations.

Late on Wednesday, June 22, the “second-reading” text of Yarovaya's legislation disappeared from the State Duma's online database. On June 23, it reappeared, with all proposals about revoking Russians' citizenship removed completely.

Russia's Constitution states, “A citizen of the Russian Federation may not be deprived of his or her citizenship or of the right to change it.” If Irina Yarovaya's legislation passes, however, the government will be able to revoke the citizenship of Russians who have citizenship in another country, or a guarantee that they will receive foreign citizenship. 

Yarovaya's legislation will also allow the authorities to revoke Russians' citizenship for several kinds of terrorist and extremist crimes (but only if criminals have dual citizenship). Among these crimes is the infamous Article 282 of Russia's criminal code, which outlaws certain kinds of hate speech, and makes it possible to put people in prison for reposting pictures on the Internet. Another crime on Yarovaya's list is Article 280.1, which bans incitements to separatism. Anyone convicted of a crime on Yarovaya's list will lose Russian citizenship the day that person's sentence takes effect—but only if the criminal has foreign citizenship or a guarantee that they will receive foreign citizenship.

The authorities will also get the power to revoke Russians' citizenship, if they serve in a foreign army, police force, or judicial system. The same goes for Russians who participate—without the express permission of the Russian government—in the work of international organizations where Russia (as a state) isn't represented. People in both these categories would lose their Russian citizenship on their first day of work. It's not clear how exactly this law would be enforced. Also unclear is what constitutes an “international organization” and whether people who have worked for such organizations in the past would also lose their Russian citizenship. 

Yarovaya's legislation employs a pretty simple trick for circumventing the Constitution's direct ban on revoking Russians' citizenship. The Constitution allows Russians to renounce their citizenship “voluntarily.” The legislation basically proposes that the authorities interpret working for an international organization or a foreign state as “a person's voluntary will, expressed in the form of actions.”

At the same time, lawmakers removed (deliberately or accidentally) one of the constraints on Russians who really do wish to renounce their citizenship. Currently, Russians are forbidden from renouncing their citizenship, before first obtaining foreign citizenship or at least a guarantee that they will receive foreign citizenship. When Yarovaya's legislation passes, Russians will be able to submit written requests to end their citizenship, even if this leaves them stateless. 

Russians can lose citizenship, as well as their freedom, for failing to report certain crimes. 

Article 205.6 criminalizes “failing to report a crime,” targeting people who don't inform police about “persons who, according to known information, prepare, are carrying out, or will carry out” crimes in certain categories. The legislation lists about a dozen crimes that Russians will be obligated to report, in order not to become criminals themselves: from international terrorism to armed insurrection aimed at undermining Russia's territorial integrity. The maximum penalty for failing to report known information about such crimes is a year in prison. It's also one of the offenses the legislation would make grounds for revoking a person's Russian citizenship. In other words, inaction—saying nothing at all—would be legally regarded as “a person's voluntary will, expressed in the form of actions.”

Article 205.6 would, however, exempt Russians from reporting crimes planned or committed by their spouses or close relatives, honoring Article 51 of Russia's Constitution, which states, “No one shall be obliged to give incriminating evidence, husband or wife and close relatives [...].”

The legislation would create yet another law making it possible to send people to prison for posting things on social networks.

Yarovaya's legislation strengthens penalties for Internet users who incite terrorist activity and justify terrorism. Such content will now be criminally equal to incitements that appear in the mass media, and the penalties will accordingly grow more severe. The maximum penalty for inciting people to terrorism or justifying terrorism on the Internet will be seven years in prison with a further ban on certain kinds of professional activity for as many as five years. (Current Russian law allows courts to sentence Internet users to five years in prison for such behavior, without any further restrictions.) This crime will also cost perpetrators their Russian citizenship. 

The legislation states that justifications of terrorism will be regarded as “public statements recognizing the ideology and practices of terrorism to be [morally] correct, and something that should be supported and imitated.”

For a single social-media repost, Russians might end up in prison, and find themselves unable to travel abroad, even after going free.

On June 23, all amendments in Yarovaya's legislation proposing bans on foreign travel were removed.

Lawmakers have introduced a new category of people who won't be allowed to leave the country, targeting Russians with outstanding or unexpunged convictions for certain crimes. Yarovaya's legislation lists some of these crimes directly by criminal-code article, most of which are crimes related to terrorism: terrorist attacks, hostage-taking, and so on. The list includes “hijacking,” “attempts on the lives of state officials,” “armed rebellion,” and more. But the list also includes all of Russia's criminal code banning “extremist acts,” which captures a wide array of criminal-code articles, including the laws that make it possible to throw people in prison for posting things on social media (such as “incitements to extremism”).

Convicts face foreign travel bans that can last years. Once a person convicted under one of the anti-terrorist, anti-extremist laws serves out their sentence, the conviction is still regarded as unexpunged for sometime thereafter. For example, convictions under Article 282 (Russia's law against hate speech) remain outstanding for another three years after a person has served out their punishment. That said, there are some instances where convictions can be expunged sooner—for good behavior, or in the rarer cases of amnesty or a pardon. 

According to Russia's current laws, convicts can travel abroad as soon as they've served out their criminal sentences, before their convictions are technically expunged (for example, when they're freed from prison). 

Moscow, March 23, 2016. Participants at an extended meeting of the Attorney General Office's Collegium.
Moscow, March 23, 2016. Participants at an extended meeting of the Attorney General Office's Collegium.
Photo: Mikhail Metzel / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Telecom providers will be required to store recordings of customers' phone calls and all text messages for months, and law enforcement agencies will be able to study this data.

Telecom providers and “organizers of online information distribution” will be obligated to store on Russian soil recordings of their customers' telephone calls (“voice information”), text messages, images, sounds, videos, and other messages. Companies will have to keep these records for up to six months, from the moment the data is sent, received, and (or) processed. The owner of any Web resource that allows users to exchange electronic messages can be added to the government's registry of “information-distribution organizers.” The registry will even include a few popular bloggers.

Providers and “organizers” will also be required to store metadata about all messages sent and received between users (meaning the information about when and between whom messages occurred, but not the actual content of the messages) for a period of three years. All this data must be transferred to law enforcement, if it's deemed necessary for operational work. These regulations would take effect on July 1, 2018. 

Police will read your encrypted conversations, too, or they'll force everyone to stop using encryption. 

Lawmakers have proposed a simple mechanism for fighting encrypted data: require the “information-distribution organizations” that use “additional coding” of electronic communications to provide the Federal Security Service (FSB) with the information that will allow them to “decode” the information. “Organizers” that refuse will be fined as much as 1 million rubles (more than $15,000). The legislation is worded to make it clear what kind of “additional coding” the authors have in mind: encrypted chat messages and any website that uses the HTTPS protocol. 

The draft law would also introduce an administrative statute prohibiting the use of “uncertified means of coding (encryption) for the transmission of messages on the Internet.” Fines will be as high as 40,000 rubles ($615) and police will have the right to confiscate any illegal means used to commit the offense.

Now only special people in special places will be allowed to preach, and it will be illegal to preach certain ideas.

Lawmakers are also eager to place new restrictions on Russia's religious sphere, amending the legal definition of “missionary activity” as defined under the Constitution's article on the freedom of conscience and religion. Yarovaya's legislation defines as “missionary activity” any kind of religious practice that takes place outside special establishments, cemeteries, houses of worship, or religious schools. This applies to acts of worship, ceremonies, the distribution of literature, and preaching. “The dissemination of beliefs and religious convictions” through the mass media and the Internet is also considered to be “missionary activity.”

If the legislation is passed, missionary activity would be off limits to anyone but the representatives of registered organizations and groups, and individuals who have entered into formal agreements with such bodies. When preaching, every missionary must carry documents with specific information proving their connection to a registered religious group. Lawmakers want to ban any kind of missionary activity in residential areas, except prayer services, ceremonies, and sacramental rites. Foreign missionaries will only be able to operate in the regions where their inviting organizations are registered.

The authorities want to ban the dissemination of certain religious concepts, too, such as ideas believed to promote extremism, discourage receiving medical care, encourage surrendering property to religious organizations, and so on. Violating these prohibitions would risk steep administration fines as high as a million rubles (more than $15,000).

The human rights center “Sova” says the amendments to Russian laws about missionary work threaten not only unregistered religious groups, but also the organizations that are already registered (namely, churches belonging to Protestants and newer Christian sects). Even some Russian Orthodox missionaries could encounter problems, Sova warns.

The punishments for some crimes are about to get much tougher.

The legislation proposes far stricter penalties for certain crimes—mostly for offenses related to “extremist activity.” Currently, several kinds of punishment await people convicted in Russia of extremist crimes: a fine, community service, restrictions on certain kinds of professional activity and other activities, and also imprisonment. Yarovaya's legislation will make all these penalties more severe—especially when it comes to incarceration. The amendments will either raise significantly both the minimum and maximum prison sentences for extremism, or introduce minimum punishments where none previously existed.

For example, under existing law, if someone is convicted of a nonviolent violation of Article 282 (against hate speech), that person can be sentenced to prison for up to four years, but there's no minimum prison sentence required. Yarovaya's legislation means such convictions will result in a required minimum two-year sentence, and courts would have the power to sentence people to as many as five years in prison. 

The legislation also increases penalties for another crime associated with extremism: “the organization of an extremist community” (Article 282.1 of Russia's criminal code). Participating in such communities will result in a prison sentence ranging from two to six years. (Currently, the maximum punishment is four years in prison, and there is no minimum sentence.) For organizing such communities, the punishment will range from six to ten years. (Currently, it ranges from two to eight years.) In addition, lawmakers have increased penalties violating Article 282.2 (“organizing the activities of an extremist organization”); it used to be punishable by two-to-eight years in prison, and now that rises to six-to-ten years. Punishments for breaking Article 282.3 (“Financing extremist activity”) also increase, from a maximum sentence of three years, to a minimum sentence of three years and a maximum sentence of eight years. Yarovaya's amendments also increase the penalties for organizing illegal armed groups, which can now land people in prison for 10-20 years (before it was 8-15 years). 

Conversely, the legislation amends Russia's criminalization of illegal migration, canceling all forms of punishment except incarceration (which remains unchanged at a maximum prison sentence of five years). This means that courts can no longer sentence people convicted of illegal migration to fines or community service.

Testing some practical ways to disperse mass unrest.
Testing some practical ways to disperse mass unrest.
Photo: PhotoXPress

Now Russians can be sent to prison for “involvement in the organization of mass unrest.”

Russia's current criminal law sets responsibility for organizing, participating in, and inciting others to mass unrest, as well as training to participate in such actions. Yarovaya's legislation adds something new: now Russians can also be prosecuted “inducing, recruiting, or otherwise involving” others in the organization of mass unrest. People convicted of this crime face a minimum prison sentence of five years and a maximum sentence of ten years.

Russia's criminal code will now address international terrorism directly.

The criminal code is getting a new article “against international terrorism,” which prosecutors can use against people accused of carrying out terrorist attacks beyond Russia's borders, in any attack that killed or injured Russian citizens. The law also applies to anyone accused of financing acts of terrorism. This crime carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Russia's postal employees will be required to check parcels.

The legislation will obligate “postal operators” (Russia's official postal service and all private postal companies) to monitor that they aren't shipping anything illegal. The list of banned items includes money, weapons, narcotics, poisons, perishable products, and substances that might harm postal service employees or damage other parcels. Lawmakers propose that packages can be inspected by X-ray machines, metal detectors, and other similar devices. Existing laws already allow postal employees to hold or even destroy packages containing prohibited items.

Prosecutors will be able to come after Russians, ages 14 and up, for even more crimes.

Yarovaya's legislation greatly expands the criminal liability of adolescents over fourteen. Currently, people in this age group can be prosecuted for 22 different criminal-code articles. If the draft laws pass, that number will rise to 32. If the legislation passes, 14 year olds can be prosecuted for international terrorism, for participation in terrorist communities, terrorist organizations, and illegal armed groups, for taking part in terrorist training camps, for participating in mass unrest, for making an attempt on the life of a state official, and for attacking an official or facility that enjoys international protection. They can also be charged with hijacking a plane, train, or ship.

The legislation even says 14 year olds can be prosecuted for the new offense of failing to report a crime. On the list of offenses for which minors can now be prosecuted, “failure to report a crime” is the only act not associated with violent behavior or threats to the public order.