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160 New Laws? Russian Upper House Set For 'World Record' In Marathon Last Day

  • Tom Balmforth

The speaker of the Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko: "These 160 laws are not new to us. We know them." (file photo)

The speaker of the Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko: "These 160 laws are not new to us. We know them." (file photo)

MOSCOW -- The Federation Council planned to consider a whopping 160 new laws on June 29, setting the Russian upper house up for what one daily dubbed a possible "world record" as it scrambled to wrap things up before summer recess.

What's more, the hectic last day was likely to see senators approve one of the most controversial items of legislation to pass through the State Duma in recent times: the "counterterrorism bill" drafted by lawmaker Irina Yarovaya that was approved in the lower house on June 24.

Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko told local media on June 27 that the fierce rhythm of the upper chamber's last working day might elicit "ironic quips" from critics, but said it did not mean that discussion was not taking place. It's just that it was happening out of the public view.

"These 160 laws are not new to us," she said. "We know them."

Matviyenko said senators are in a position to handle the deluge of documents because of what are known as "zero" readings, which take place before formal readings in the parliament.

Matviyenko said senators had either been party to discussion of the 160 bills in the State Duma before they reached a first reading or had considered with the "utmost attention" texts of the bills sent to the Federation Council.

To put the task of considering 160 bills in a single day into perspective, it is worth noting that the Federation Council has examined just 223 since returning from winter recess. Out of those 223, it rejected only two, Moskovsky Komsomolets reports.

The daily wrote that passing 160 laws in a day would probably amount to some kind of a "world record." The Russian parliament has been characterized by the liberal democratic opposition as a "possessed printer," spewing out Kremlin laws with little regard.

Matviyenko said "this session is unusual," however. "The State Duma finished its work because of the upcoming elections for the State Duma and there was a need for extremely intense work to adopt those laws -- which we cannot postpone until fall, and are needed by our country, society."

Among them is contentious counterterrorism legislation that human rights workers, telecoms operators, businesses, and even some influential regional politicians have called on the authorities to quash.

The bill beefs up punishments for extremism and terrorism, ramps up state surveillance capabilities, criminalizes the act of not informing authorities of certain crimes, restricts the activities of religious preachers, and increases the number of crimes 14-year-olds can be prosecuted for.

The law requires all telephone conversations, text messages, and picture messages to be stored for six months by telecoms companies and made accessible to the authorities. It requires messenger services to help authorities decode any encrypted messages. Metadata is to be held for three years.

The head of the Kremlin Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, has called for the bill to be rejected. The influential business daily Vedomosti, however, wrote this morning that the decision has already been made to pass it.

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at balmfortht@rferl.org

     

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