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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Kremlin Bill Proposes Absolute Control Over Speech, Politics

The Gulf Times reports, via Reuters, on a bill pending in the Duma which would formally obliterate pluralism in Russia:

Russia’s pro-Kremlin parliament is to consider new laws on extremism that the opposition said are so sweeping they could be used to silence critics of President Vladimir Putin.

The draft legislation would make it possible to ban a party or candidate from politics if they made a statement that induced others to extremist actions or admitted the possibility of extremist action, according to a copy obtained by Reuters.

Opponents said that meant a politician could be pulled out of an election if, for example, he warned in a campaign speech that the government’s reforms were so unpopular they could provoke a wave of unlawful protests.

Backers of the draft say tough new legislation is needed to stem a wave of hate attacks against ethnic minorities. In one attack, a man shouting “Heil Hitler!” knifed worshippers in a synagogue, wounding nine people.

It would also cover Islamic radicals behind attacks on Russian officials in the North Caucasus.But the draft could mean more awkward questions for Putin when he hosts leaders of the Group of Eight countries in St Petersburg from July 15. Many Western governments already say the Kremlin is squeezing democratic freedoms.

Communist lawmaker Viktor Ilyukhin said the Kremlin wanted to use the threat of legal action over extremism to discourage its opponents from stepping out of line.

“A party that does not suit the presidential administration can be barred from an election or thrown out of parliament,” he said.

The legislation is supported by United Russia, the Kremlin-backed party that holds a huge majority in the parliament, or State Duma. Two smaller parties also back it.

A source in the presidential administration, who did not want to be identified, said the legislation was a Kremlin initiative. Lawmakers are expected to try to pass the draft before their summer recess in August. United Russia lawmaker Alexander Moskalets said the proposed measures would have a positive effect, encouraging parties to screen prospective candidates more carefully to weed out extremists. “The parties (should) not let random people onto their elections lists,” he said.

Russia votes in a parliamentary election next year that will be a dress rehearsal for a presidential vote in 2008. Pollsters say United Russia’s popularity is flagging and though it will hold on to its majority, it could lose seats.

A party or candidate in breach of the proposed extremism rules could be barred from taking part in an election or, if already elected, thrown out of parliament. A party could also have its registration – which it needs to operate – withdrawn.

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