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Thursday, November 15, 2012
From Print Edition


MOSCOW: A controversial law broadening the definition of high treason took effect in Russia on Wednesday even as President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman indicated it might be watered down if necessary.


On Tuesday Putin signed into law the bill, which human rights activists say can be used against any dissenter as it can target individuals deemed to have harmed Russian security by passing information to a foreign organisation.


The law has provoked an outcry from activists. They say the legislation is part of a broad crackdown against the opposition in revenge for the unprecedented protests that erupted as Putin returned to the Kremlin in May for a third presidential term.


Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that the Kremlin would watch how the law was implemented and did not rule out the legislation being amended.


“The president has indeed expressed readiness to look at this law very carefully,” Russian news agencies quoted Peskov as saying.


Speaking to human rights campaigners earlier this week, Putin also indicated he was ready to consider watering down the law.


“Let’s revisit this, let’s think,” he said. “I agree with you in that there should not be a loose interpretation of what high treason is.” Peskov said Putin’s comments Monday meant that if the implementation of the law revealed any problems limiting Russians’ rights and freedoms then Putin would be willing to “further work with this document.”


In addition to passing secret information to foreign governments, the new law makes it illegal to give consultations or financial help to international organisations if they are engaged in “activities directed against the security of Russia”.


Rights activists and lawyers have said that the broader definitions could criminalise sharing information with international organisations such as Amnesty International or even appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.