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Russian Lawmakers Approve In Initial Reading Expanded 'Extremism" Law Aimed At Crimea

Russian State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin (file photo)
Russian State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin (file photo)

Russia's lower chamber of parliament, the State Duma, has approved the first reading of an expanded extremism bill aimed at further quelling opposition activists and politicians as well as anyone questioning Moscow’s forcible seizure of the Crimean Peninsula.

Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin said on July 14 that, after the bill is adopted and becomes law, "calls for the violation of Russia's territorial integrity, including calls to alienate parts of its territory, will be considered extremism."

"Any calls to separate Russia's region or its part are unacceptable and must suppressed," Volodin said.

The bill, proposed by a group of lawmakers, is primarily aimed at targeting any discussion or criticism of Russia taking Crimea from Ukraine. Among other things, the legislation outlines fines and criminal liability for "public appeals" using the media, the Internet, or any other information channel.

Volodin said that the bill would amend the law on extremism bringing it in line with constitutional amendments that were adopted and took effect on July 4 amid protests by opposition and rights defenders.

Among other changes, the constitutional amendments allowed President Vladimir Putin to seek two more presidential terms after his current second term in a row expires in 2024.

The bill must go through approvals in two more readings by the State Duma and an approval by the parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, before President Putin signs it into law.

The head of the committee for constitutional legislation and state-building at the parliament’s upper chamber, Andrei Klishas, who is also the bill's author, said on July 8 that the legislation may be fully approved by parliament by the end of July.

Russian lawmakers amended the Criminal Code in July 2014, several months after Moscow illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimea, toughening punishment for public calls for separatism by introducing the possibility of imposing a sentence of up to five years in prison for publicly advocating separatism via media and the Internet.

That amendment was used by Russian authorities to proseecute dozens of journalists and activists in Crimea for their open stance opposing the seizure of the Black Sea peninsula.

The new bill proposes imprisonment of 6 to 10 years, especially for repeated violations of the law.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax
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