MOSCOW -- Lawmakers from Chechnya's regional parliament have proposed national legislation for Russia that would formally impose criminal accountability upon relatives of militants who commit acts of terrorism.
The bill, submitted to Russia's State Duma on January 12, calls for increased punishments against those convicted of “crimes of a terrorist nature against public security.”
It also proposes an extension of criminal accountability to parents and close relatives of convicted terrorists if a court finds they provided “assistance” to militants in “any form.”
Those deemed guilty under the proposed legislation would face 15 to 25 years in jail, as well as the seizure of their property and the freezing of their bank accounts.
The authors of the bill wrote: “The people who commit acts of terror and their relatives do not feel the full measure of their responsibility before society, and in turn, suicide bombers frequently commit terrorist attacks and blow themselves up for large amounts of money that their close relatives receive.”
But rights activists and lawyers criticize the proposed legislation as vaguely worded, saying it would herald the return of medieval collective punishment.
Svetlana Gannushkina, a leading human rights activist in Russia and head of the Civic Assistance committee, said the bill is “proposing we return to some kind of medieval time.”
Gannushkina said she hopes the Duma rejects the law on criminal accountability for relatives.
She said that even during the Soviet era under the dictatorship of Josef Stalin, “a son did not answer for his father and vice versa.” She said the bill is an “absurd” return to “collective responsibility, collective guilty, and collective punishment.”
The proposed legislation echoes a controversial statement made in early December by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov calling for the homes of militants' relatives to be destroyed.
On December 4, after 14 police officers were killed during a night raid by militants in Grozny, Kadyrov declared that the families of militants bear responsibility for terrorist attacks.
Kadyrov also threatened that in the future, the relatives of militants would be banished from the southern Russian region and that their homes would be razed.
Days later, on December 8, human rights organizations reported that masked men torched several homes owned by relatives of suspected militants in what were described as extrajudicial reprisals.
The issue was raised at President Vladimir Putin’s televised annual press conference on December 18. Putin appeared to criticize the burning of the homes, saying: “Everyone must adhere to the existing laws of our country. No one is considered guilty until a court finds them so.”
Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily newspaper wrote on January 13 that Kadyrov had “listened to Putin” and that the draft legislation from Chechen lawmakers was an attempt to legalize the prosecution of the relatives of militants.
Roman Khudyakov, a State Duma deputy with the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), told RFE/RL's Russian Service that he fully approves of the legislation.
Khudyakov said: “If investigators prove that a family has been speaking to a terrorist for a year and has not told the law enforcement agencies their suspicions that their son, husband, father, daughter, wife is involved in a conspiracy or in planning their own personal plans linked to terrorism, if this family does not tell the law enforcement agencies, then investigators have the right to fully implement these amendments to the law.”
But lawyer Tatyana Okushko told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that the law is written in a way that would make relatives of perpetrators bear legal responsibility for crimes like hooliganism and vandalism.
Okushko says the legislation will not prevent terrorism but would likely result in an increased number of terrorist attacks.
With reporting by Interfax and Nezavisimaya Gazeta