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|06MOSCOW8148||2006-07-31 15:47||2011-08-30 01:44||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Moscow|
DE RUEHMO #8148/01 2121547
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 311547Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9738
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 008148
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/27/2016
TAGS: PGOV PHUM RS
SUBJECT: EXTREMISM LAW SIGNED BY PUTIN
REF: MOSCOW 7666
Classified By: A/POL Colin Cleary. Reasons 1.4b and d.
¶1. (C) SUMMARY. As expected, President Putin signed into law
July 28 amendments to legislation "On Countering Extremism,"
despite concerns among many that the law may restrict
legitimate criticism of the government. As noted in reftel,
the revised law expands the definition of extremist activity
to include public slander of a government official or his
family, as well as public statements justifying or excusing
terrorism. Supporters of the law argue that it will allow
authorities to combat racist and nationalist groups more
effectively. Critics counter that it could be used to stifle
politically sensitive NGOs and opposition political parties
during the 2007-2008 election cycle. In light of the vague
terms used in the law to define "extremism," much will depend
on how it is implemented. END SUMMARY.
BILL PASSED RAPIDLY ... BUT NOT WITHOUT SOME DEBATE
¶2. (SBU) The bill was passed more quickly than usual -- the
State Duma approved the amendments July 8, and the upper
chamber Federation Council endorsed them July 14. The bill
will go into effect 90 days after President Putin's signature
-- on October 28. The legislation enjoyed broad support
among United Russia (YR) and other pro-government forces.
Twenty-seven members of the Public Chamber called for similar
legislation barring "extremists" from elections shortly
before the amendments were introduced in the Duma. Also, the
heads of 13 Russian regions (11 of which are members of the
YR executive committee) issued a letter in support of the
amendments during the week of June 18, just days before the
Duma was scheduled to vote on them.
¶3. (SBU) Supporters of the law, such as pro-Kremlin political
analyst Sergey Markov, said the law will help prevent
extremist political parties from exploiting public resentment
against unpopular reforms for their own ends, such as last
year's well-publicized street demonstrations against the
monetization of some social benefits. Also, Human Rights
Watch (HRW) Deputy Director Sasha Petrov told us that human
rights groups in St. Petersburg believed the new amendments
can be used more effectively to combat worsening xenophobia
in St. Petersburg where Article 282 of the Criminal Code
(incitement of ethnic or religious hatred) generally has been
ineffectual in prosecuting skinheads. Vladimir Pligin,
Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Constitutional
Legislation and Government Building, commented to the media
that any ambiguities in the law would be resolved in court.
He said the court system was capable of distinguishing
extremist activity from normal criticism of authorities.
Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin also
defended the law, saying that "Nazis came to power in Germany
by means of democratic procedures -- they won elections ...
And members of the Hamas movement, known not only for
extremist statements but also for acts of terrorism, came to
power in Palestine by a democratic procedure as well."
¶4. (SBU) However, some members of the Federation Council
(upper house) expressed concern that the legislation might
restrict legitimate freedom of speech and limit the right of
citizens to participate in elections. Chairman of the
Regional Policy Committee Rafgat Altynbayev told the media
that Federation Council members demanded a condition for
passing the bill -- that the Constitutional Law and
Information Policy Committees would draft further amendments
to the law and submit them to the State Duma this autumn.
The Information Policy Committee, although it recommended
passing the bill, observed that some points "defining
extremist activity, such as 'public defamation', 'the use of
violence or the threat of violence', and 'attempts on the
lives of state officials or community leaders' were not
conducive to ensuring equal rights and liberties for all
citizens of Russia." Federation Council Speaker Sergey
Mironov agreed, saying "I also believe this law should be
CRITICS SPAN THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM
¶5. (C) Mikhail Gorbachev, generally supportive of Putin and
his administration, called on the President in an interview
with Rossisskaya Gazeta to veto the legislation, warning that
a law which offers such a broad definition of extremism could
be used to pressure opposition and curtail dissent. The
Russian Union of Journalists also appealed to Putin to veto
the legislation, which it called "senseless if applied in
good faith" and "extremely dangerous if abused." The new
legislation would "encroach on freedom of expression,"
undermining Putin's remarks at the World Newspaper Congress
in Moscow in June that freedom of expression was a "value
guaranteed in the Constitution." Chairman of the Central
Electoral Commission Aleksandr Veshnyakov said to us and in
several media interviews that support for the legislation
defied logic and went too far, to the extent that even
legitimate criticism of the government could be labeled
extremist and lead to a ban on an entire party or individual
candidate. He added Russia already had sufficient laws
intended to check extremist behavior and surmised that the
Duma had pushed through the legislation without proper legal
¶6. (C) Yuriy Dzhibladze, President of the Center for the
Development of Democracy and Human Rights, told us that the
law might result in increased self-censorship in the media as
criticism of government officials might be interpreted as
slander. Protesters, demonstrators, and youth groups could
be charged with extremism for resisting arrest, thus limiting
freedom of assembly, he added. Human Rights Watch Director
Allison Gill worried that if HRW wrote, for example, an
article on the ideology of Chechen fighters, it could be
accused under the law of condoning extremism. Open Russia
head Irina Yasina expressed similar concern to us that "any
individual could be subjected to prosecution if they dared to
express dissatisfaction with the authorities." Deputy Human
Rights Ombudsman Georgiy Kunadze told us that the Duma was
attentive to what Putin wanted it to do. The Duma thought
the President wanted a more restrictive extremism law, so
they delivered it quickly.
¶7. (C) The reaction to the newly signed extremism law is
reminiscent of the widespread criticism that greeted the
passage of the NGO bill that Putin signed into law in April.
In both instances, how the enabling regulations are
implemented is the key issue. In light of the vague language
used in the extremism law to define its terms, much will
depend on interpretation by federal and local authorities.
The new law supplements the government's arsenal of legal
tools already available for use against hard-core extremists
but, interpreted broadly, has the potential to undermine
legitimate dissent and political dialogue.