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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW8148 2006-07-31 15:47 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow


DE RUEHMO #8148/01 2121547
R 311547Z JUL 06

C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 008148 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/27/2016 
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. 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
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 
more specific." 
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. 


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