Russia’s parliament has advanced sweeping spy legislation targeting civil groups that work with foreigners to upset domestic politics in what rights groups call another attack on freedoms.
Friday’s near-unanimous lower house vote in the first of three readings came on the heels of President Vladimir Putin’s decision to ram through a law branding as “foreign agents” local groups with funding from abroad.
Former spy Putin accuses Washington of funding the wave of protests that rose against his dominant 12-year rule this winter and recently saw the foreign ministry shut the door to the USAID development agency’s work in Russia.
The State Duma’s action passed without notice from the state media and was only reported in detail by the respected Vedomosti business daily on its website.
The paper noted that the bill was initially introduced to parliament by Putin’s cabinet in 2008 when he became prime minister upon completing the two successive Kremlin terms allowed by the constitution.
But Putin’s four-year presidential stand-in Dmitry Medvedev — a lawyer by training who preferred more liberal rhetoric before ceding his Kremlin seat back to Putin in May — sent the draft back down for further study in 2009.
The highly-sensitive measure specifically addresses the definitions of “spy” and “state treason” — two of Russia’s toughest offences that could put those found guilty in prison for up to 20 years.
It is being sponsored by the feared Federal Security Service (FSB) agency that succeeded the KGB in post-Soviet Russia and was headed by Putin in the years preceding his meteoric rise to the presidency in 2000.
The new version broadens the definition of “spies” to include Russian nationals who help foreign states or organisations upset the country’s “constitutional order, sovereignty or territorial and national integrity.”
Current law simply refers to actions that “damage the foreign security of the Russian Federation” and makes no reference to domestic politics at all.
Rights groups noted that the expanded wording may be used to target advocacy groups such as the prominent human rights organisation Memorial and others working to introduce broader pluralism to Russian society.
Putin has promoted a top-down command system and plays up “domestic order” in speeches dealing with social affairs.
Memorial has been particularly active in the violence-wrecked North Caucasus and defended entire families from prosecution against terrorism and other charges linked to Islamic militancy.
The group — funded by USAID and others — on Friday officially broke Russian law by ignoring a deadline by which it had to register as a “foreign agent” or face a fine.
“Memorial will not take part in events leading to the destruction of Russian society” it said in a statement. “This law is illegal and immoral to its core.”
The tiny organisation may now have to pay up to one million rubles ($32,000) under a new ruling party sponsored penalty that was also given initial approval this month.
Putin has largely scoffed at the street protests as a consequence of Washington’s ambition to unseat him from power because of his domestic strength and highly sceptical view of US foreign policies.
But the decision to shut down the State Department’s USAID programme may have lasting and possibly devastating consequences for rights groups that are already starved of domestic support.
Pressure on Memorial and the others rose further this week on news that the Central Bank had drafted a requirement for financial institutions to report all aid being transferred to non-governmental organisation from abroad.
The proposal effectively equates such funding with money laundering operations and terrorism activities.
In extreme crises, conservatism can turn to fascism. Here’s how that might play out
5 movie "Back to the Future," Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) travels in a time machine from the 1980s to the 1950s. When he tells people of the '50s he is from the '80s, he is met with skepticism.
1950s person: Then tell me, future boy, who's President of the United States in 1985?
This article first appeared at Salon.com.Marty McFly: Ronald Reagan.
1950s person: Ronald Reagan? The actor? [chuckles in disbelief] Then who's vice president? Jerry Lewis [comedian]?
Who are the young people behind the Catalonia protest violence?
The violent protests that have swept Catalonia over the jailing of nine separatist leaders have involved veteran anarchists and youthful troublemakers as well as outraged separatists, some of whom became radicalised only recently.
"I am 24, have a masters and a job and I never imagined myself setting fire to a barricade with my face masked," said one protester who gave her name only as Aida.
She has joined in protests every day since they erupted in the region after Spain's Supreme Court on Monday sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to up to 13 years in jail for sedition over a failed 2017 independence bid.
Body language expert dissects the power dynamic at play in the iconic Nancy Pelosi photo
Last week, President Donald Trump met with Democrats at the White House to discuss the way both sides could work to fix the President's mistakes in Syria. Democrats left the White House saying that the President had another meltdown during the meeting, which prompted Trump to claim Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was the one who had a meltdown. He then posted photos of Pelosi sitting quietly and another photo of Pelosi standing and pointing at him.
Body language expert Dr. Jack Brown posted the photo and gave his own analysis of what he believed was happening in the photo.
"When a person has little or no empathy — and/or when they're far from their emotional baseline, their ability to interpret how others will view an event becomes dramatically distorted," Brown explained Sunday. "Rarely has this behavioral axiom been better exemplified than last Wednesday at the White House."