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Russia's State Duma just approved some of the most repressive laws in post-Soviet history

Meduza
14:36, 24 june 2016

State Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya.

Photo: Stanislav Krasilnikov / TASS

On Friday, June 24, Russia's State Duma approved a final draft of several anti-terrorist laws spearheaded by deputy Irina Yarovaya. Though lawmakers removed many of the legislation's most odious amendments at the last minute (which, in part, would have made it possible to revoke convicts' Russian citizenship and their right to travel abroad), the bill still revises dozens of existing laws in ways that could have profound consequences for people living in Russia. For “Yarovaya's legislation” to become law, the Federation Council must next approve the legislation, and then President Putin needs to sign it. There is no doubt that this will happen. Meduza offers a brief summary of what the State Duma just set into motion.

Failure to report a crime

Beginning on July 20, 2016, “the failure to report a crime” will itself become a criminal offense. Russians will be required to inform the authorities about anything they know regarding preparations for terrorist attacks, armed rebellions, and several other kinds of crimes on a list that has more than half a dozen different offenses. Anyone who doesn't faces up to a year in prison.

Justifying terrorism on social media

Publishing online incitements to terrorism, or even expressing approval of terrorism on the Internet, will be regarded legally as publishing such comments in the mass media, subjecting individuals to the same strict penalties now imposed on media outlets. The maximum punishment for publicly inciting or justifying terrorism is seven years in prison.

Telephone and SMS records, and police access to that data

One part of Yarovaya's legislation that passed the Duma almost without revisions is the language creating new requirements for how Russia's telecoms store data. Now companies like Megafon, Beeline, and MTS will have to store records of all calls and text messages exchanged between customers for a period of six months. And for three years, the companies will need to keep the metadata on all calls and text messages (the information about when and between whom messages occurred, but not the actual content of the messages). The same rules will apply to “the organizers of information distribution on the Internet.” (State regulators will identify the Web resources that qualify as “information-distribution organizers.“) While telecom companies will have to store metadata for three years, “organizers” will only need to hold onto the information for one year. 

Data encryption

There's another important amendment aimed at “organizers of information distribution on the Internet”: if an online service—a messenger app, a social network, an email client, or even just a website—encrypts its data, its owners will be required to help the Federal Security Service decipher any message sent by its users. The fine for refusing to cooperate can be as high as a million rubles (more than $15,000).

Missionary work

Yarovaya's legislation tightens regulations on Russia's religious sphere of life, creating a thoroughly broad definition of missionary work, which will now be off limits to anyone not formally affiliated with registered organizations or groups. And any kind of missionary work will now be restricted to specially designated areas. The fines for violating these new regulations can reach 1 million rubles. 

Tougher punishments for extremism

The legislation means people convicted of extremism go to prison more often and for longer. Those who don't end up behind bars will pay more money in fines. In some cases, the changes are extraordinary. For example, people currently convicted of financing extremist activities (Article 282.3 of Russia's criminal code) now face up to three years in prison, though they're not always incarcerated. Under Yarovaya's reforms, the maximum sentence rises to eight years, and the crime now carries a minimum prison sentence of three years.

Inducing people to join mass unrest

Yarovaya's legislation introduces a new criminal-code article that outlaws “inducing, recruiting, or otherwise involving” others in the organization of mass unrest. The maximum penalty for breaking this law is ten years, and the minimum prison sentence is five years.

Criminal liability from the age of 14

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. Now the number will rise to 32. It will be possible to prosecute 14 year olds 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. The legislation even says 14 year olds can be prosecuted for the new offense of failing to report a crime. 

International terrorism

Russia's criminal code is also getting a new article “against international terrorism,” which prosecutors can use against people accused of carrying out terrorist attacks beyond the country'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.

Inspections of mailed 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. The costs of carrying out these inspections fall on the postal operators. 

What didn't make it into the legislation?

Revoking people's citizenship. Before the second reading of the legislation, Yarovaya and her coauthors proposed various grounds for revoking Russians' citizenship. This would have applied in several circumstances, including anyone convicted of terrorist or extremist crimes, and even Russians who cooperated with certain kinds of international organizations.

Revoking people's right to leave the country. The legislation's first reading also proposed banning foreign travel for anyone who received an “official warning” regarding “the inadmissibility of illegal actions committed.” This would have applied extrajudicially. For the second reading, lawmakers changed the amendment, proposing foreign travel restrictions only on Russians with outstanding or unexpunged convictions for certain crimes (namely, terrorism and extremism). In the end, the State Duma decided to drop these reforms altogether. 

Why these amendments appeared in the legislation after its first reading and disappeared on the eve of the second reading remains unknown.