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Russian Duma Drops Citizenship-Stripping Clause Ahead Of Antiterror Bill Vote

  • Tom Balmforth

The legislation has been championed by United Russia lawmaker Irina Yarovaya and has won support from members of the ruling party, who argue that the measures are needed to combat the potent terrorism threat illustrated by the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in November by Islamic State militants.

The legislation has been championed by United Russia lawmaker Irina Yarovaya and has won support from members of the ruling party, who argue that the measures are needed to combat the potent terrorism threat illustrated by the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in November by Islamic State militants.

MOSCOW -- Russian lawmakers, who are expected on June 24 to pass controversial antiterrorism legislation, have reportedly dropped the proposed bill's most contentious elements: a mechanism to strip certain Russians of their citizenship.

As it stands, however, the bill going before the State Duma still contains a raft of provisions that human rights watchdogs say are unconstitutional and land a major blow to privacy rights and freedom of conscience. If passed, they warn, it could still amount to the most egregious legislation passed by the outgoing legislature.

The legislation has been championed by United Russia lawmaker Irina Yarovaya and has won support from members of the ruling party. They argue that the measures are needed to combat the potent terrorism threat illustrated by the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in November by Islamic State militants.

The bill proposes beefing up punishments for extremism and terrorism, considerably ramps up state surveillance capabilities, criminalizes the act of not informing on other citizens with regard to certain crimes, restricts the activity of religious preachers, and increases the number of crimes 14-year-olds can be criminally prosecuted for.

Most controversially, the legislation had proposed stripping Russians holding dual citizenship of their Russian passports if they broke terrorism or extremism laws, or served in foreign armies, police forces, or even international organizations in which Russia is not represented.

This measure, however, was dropped on June 23, the day before the Duma was set to consider the legislation, according to TASS. The Russian news agency also reported that lawmakers removed a proposal that would have banned those condemned under terrorism or vaguely worded extremism legislation from leaving the country for a period of five years.

The State Duma was due to vote on the second and third readings of the bill on June 22, but those readings were delayed until June 24, the last day before the Duma's term ends ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for September.

The legislation is somewhat of a swan song for this Duma, which was elected amid election-fraud allegations in December 2011 and whose activities have often been vilified by the liberal opposition.

"This is possibly, from a human rights viewpoint, the worst law passed by this chamber of the Russian parliament," said Tatyana Lokshina, the Russia program director for Human Rights Watch. "It is a final coup, in a sense."

"In the name of countering terrorism and extremism and of ensuring public safety, the law severely undermines the very fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression and freedom of conscience," she said. "It lacks the right to privacy. Even without the provision on removing citizenship, this is a disastrous law."

The legislation, if passed in its current form, would require telecoms operators to store all communications they handle -- including recordings of phone conversations and text messages -- for a period of six months and make them available to the authorities. All metadata must be stored for three years.

Encrypted messaging services such as Skype, Whatsapp, and Telegram would be required to turn over an encryption key to the authorities. Some Internet companies and unions, such as the 200-strong Association of Electronic Communications, have protested the sheer costs that such measures could entail, the lack of existing encryption keys in certain cases, and incursions on privacy.

The legislation also proposes to expand the number of crimes youths aged 14 or older can be criminally prosecuted for. These crimes range from international terrorism to participation in mass unrest, from hijacking a plane to receiving terrorist training.

Missionary activities -- such as preaching or circulating religious literature -- outside of registered prayer houses or places would be banned for those who represent churches and faiths not registered with the authorities.

The legislation would criminalize failing to inform the authorities about fellow citizens who have committed a crime or are planning a future crime if that crime is, for instance, international terrorism or armed rebellion. The stipulation is seen as a throwback to Soviet legislation, according to Lokshina, who said the measure would be highly problematic to implement, particularly in areas of the troubled North Caucasus.

The proposals have stirred passions among liberal opposition activists. On June 23, some Russian activists picketed the State Duma in protest against the bill with signs like: "Yarovaya and co., your laws contradict human rights and the main law of the country. Get your bills and backside out of my Duma."

Writing on Facebook, Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition lawmaker who has a reputation for publicly criticizing the Kremlin, said he would propose several amendments during readings of the antiterror legislation on June 24.

"This is the most important document that the State Duma has handled in recent months and even years," he wrote. "Of course, over this time there have many harmful, perhaps even criminal, legislative bills. But this one will become the cornerstone of parliament's work to destroy the country."

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