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Russia To Hold Relatives Of 'Terrorists' Financially Responsible For Material Damage

Slippery slope? The Olympic village in the mountain ski resort of Rosa Khutor is seen from Rosa peak of Aibga mountain, some 40 kilometers east of Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Slippery slope? The Olympic village in the mountain ski resort of Rosa Khutor is seen from Rosa peak of Aibga mountain, some 40 kilometers east of Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law the controversial bill he introduced into the Russian parliament six weeks ago amending the Criminal Code to expand the number of offenses classified as terrorism and require the relatives of people deemed to have committed acts of terrorism to pay financial compensation for the material damage they caused.

Some lawyers and human rights activists have questioned whether the law violates the presumption of innocence and expressed doubts whether it will prove an effective deterrent.

The new law also imposes severe penalties -- from five to 20 years imprisonment and/or a fine of 500,000-1 million rubles -- for undergoing training in how to commit acts of terrorism or establishing or belonging to a "terrorist association [soobshchestvo]." In other words, any young man who "heads to the forest" to join the insurgency and is taught how to handle a Kalashnikov rifle is liable in the event of his capture to be charged with "terrorism," even if he has never fired a single shot.

Even though fighters who have never engaged in combat and who voluntarily lay down their arms are theoretically exempt from prosecution, the law is likely to cause second thoughts among young men who may be considering turning themselves in to the government commissions established in Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria to help repentant militants readapt to civilian life.

The new law further provides for legal investigation to determine the origin of property belonging to "terrorists"' relatives. And it envisages the creation of a federal agency that will monitor the measures taken by regional and district officials to counter terrorism. Since investigating alleged complicity between district officials and insurgents (such allegations have surfaced in recent months in Daghestan) is the prerogative of the law-enforcement agencies, it is conceivable that the new agency is intended to prevent regional officials or bodies such as the armed volunteer detachments created one year ago in Daghestan from taking the law into their own hands and killing suspected "terrorists" in cold blood without a trial.

In Chechnya, the relatives of insurgents have for years been routinely subjected to various reprisals ranging from nonpayment of state pensions and allowances to the torching of their homes.

Lawyers and NGOs active in the North Caucasus have expressed reservations about the new law. Lawyer Rinat Gamidov branded it "populist." Both Gamidov and a second lawyer, Arsen Radjabov, argue that exacting compensation for damage from terrorists' relatives violates the presumption of innocence.

So too does Varvara Parkhomenko of the International Crisis Group. She points out that the Civil Code already makes provision for the restitution by the perpetrator's immediate family of damage inflicted as a result of a terrorist act.

Even the chairman of the Independent Trade Union of Employees of the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office, Magomed Shamilov, dismissed the law as stillborn. He pointed out that even the "so-called monster Stalin" used to say that a son should not answer for his father's crimes.

The Kabardino-Balkaria Republic parliament sent a similar bill to the Duma in the summer of 2011 that would have designated as a criminal offense the failure by a spouse or close relative to inform the authorities of a gave crime, but then withdrew it with no explanation.

Putin sent the new draft law to the State Duma (the lower chamber of the Russian parliament) in late September, some 10 days after one suicide bombing in Sernovodsk in northern Chechnya that killed three police officers and injured five more and the thwarting of a similar suicide attack the same morning just a few miles away on the other side of the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia. Republic of Ingushetia President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov threatened in the wake of that attack to demolish the home of anyone offering shelter to insurgents.

The State Duma voted on the draft law in the first reading on October 18 and in the second and third readings a week later. The Federation Council endorsed it on October 30.

The new penalties imposed on insurgents' relatives have been construed as targeting primarily the North Caucasus. And some journalists have linked them to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, which North Caucasus insurgency leader Doku Umarov has urged his fighters to thwart.

But Aleksandr Verkhovsky, head of the SOVA analytical center, has suggested that the primary target of the penalties for establishing a "terrorist association" is the Islamist organization Hizb-ut Tahrir, which first took root in Russia's Volga region 10 years ago. It is not known to have a presence in the North Caucasus.

As Verkhovsky explained in an article he published in 2005, even though Hizb ut-Tahrir abjures violence, Russia's Supreme Court included it in 2003 on a list of 15 so-called terrorist organizations, the activities of which on Russian soil are automatically banned as "extremist," even though no concrete evidence existed of its members' involvement in terrorism.

During the first reading of the bill in the Duma, Yury Gorbunov, deputy director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), explained that while the existing legislation empowers the security service to take action against a terrorist group, it limits the action that can be taken against a terrorist association, meaning one whose members may advocate terrorism as an ideology without necessarily engaging in it. The new law enables the security services to take action to neutralize a terrorist association even without any evidence that its members are planning to perpetrate an act of terrorism.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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