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Monday, July 09, 2007

An Uncivilized Country, Part III: They Send You to Prison for Talking Without Permission

Welcome to the Neo-Soviet Union, where talking without the Kremlin's permission is a crime. Well, at least Zhirinovsky is happy. IOL reports:

Russia's lower house of parliament approved legislative amendments on Friday that will broaden the definition of extremist crime to include offences committed for political and ideological motives. The amendments were seen by analysts and members of parliament as a precaution ahead of parliamentary elections in December and a presidential poll next March to choose a successor to President Vladimir Putin. "This law is needed to prevent a revolution," said pro-Kremlin member of parliament Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the far-right Liberal Democratic party.

Under the amendments, a crime may be judged to have been committed for reasons of "political and ideological hatred," in addition to racial or religious motives already taken account of by the law. Public order offences will be punishable by eight years in prison if "committed for ideological, political or racial motives."

"Calls to extremism" could incur sentences of six years, instead of five at present. The police will also receive additional powers to tap telephones. The amendments were passed by 311 votes in favour with 90 against. They now go to the upper house of parliament, where they are expected to pass easily. They must then be signed off by President Vladimir Putin to come into force. The amendments come after opposition groups and campaigners demanded refinements to an extremism law passed last July.

But Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of the last independent deputies in a parliament largely loyal to the Kremlin, said the amendments did not answer campaigners' demands. "The definition of extremism is very broad, enabling the inclusion of all criticism of the authorities. All the deputies in this hall could be punished for extremism," Ryzhkov said. Ahead of the forthcoming elections, Russia has seen a series of demonstrations by a broad opposition coalition called The Other Russia, some of which have been violently dispersed. Critics at home and in the West accuse the Kremlin of rolling back democratic freedoms established after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, a charge Putin has rejected.

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