By the end of this year the State Duma will have passed the law “On opposing terrorism”. The first reading has already passed, while the second will be held in October, as stated by the chairman of the Duma’s committee on security, Colonel-General Vladimir Vasilyev. At least three elements contained in the law raise serious misgivings. It foresees, aside from scenarios already catered for by current laws, a new possibility for declaring a state of emergency. This would be a new emergency situation titled Terrorist Danger. It can be declared for a period of up to 60 days and be in force either locally or even nationwide.
The bill foresees this state of emergency being declared “on receiving information pointing to possible acts of terrorism, and with circumstances precluding checks of that information”. In other words, it would be possible to declare a state of Terrorist Danger, limit the rights of the people for up to 60 days, then prolong again and again – however long it suits the authorities, and then declare the information not to have been right after all. No responsibility – it was all within the law…
Article 22, Counterterrorist Operation, lists significant restrictions of citizens’ rights, should the state be introduced. In Article 21, Terrorist Danger, it is said that several of the restrictions listed in the former Article also apply to the latter one. These are not actually listed: there simply being a reference to Article 22. This may not be in opposition to legal principles, yet those behind the bill may prefer to leave the restrictions buried in the other act’s list.
So, in the event of Terrorist Danger, the authorities will have the right to demand that citizens produce their documents, and can detain citizens who cannot identify themselves. They can remove citizens and vehicles from places, and monitor telephone traffic and other forms of telecommunications.
The authorities can also limit or forbid traffic or pedestrians, and ban meetings and demonstrations. The last point is of particular interest. In Russia, political demonstrations have never been the target of terrorists. But the authorities have always related badly to those demonstrations it itself did not organise.
The authorities’ wish to wage electronic war against the population also corresponds to a general trend. Those journalists covering the Yukos case often complained that mobile communication around the Moscow court building was being “stifled” by the special services.
The bill contradicts a range of civil rights. Firstly, it denies and belittles the freedom and rights of citizens in the areas of morals, health, maintenance of the country’s defence, and state security. Terrorist Danger is hardly a sufficient threat to justify affecting these areas. Secondly, and most importantly, according to the constitution, rights and freedom can only be limited under a state of emergency. But Terrorist Danger does not foresee the introduction of a state of emergency.
The second element concerns scenarios to limit freedom of information. The new law states that information on terrorist attacks is to be controlled by the head of the counter-terrorist committee or his representative for mass media. It would be forbidden to spread information calling for terror or justifying its necessity, to complicate the carrying out of an operation, revealing details of it, or disclosing facts concerning especially severe violence.
The head of such a counter-terrorist operation would be within his rights to forbid media operatives from entering an area, or to assign them a special zone within the area.
In the area where an operation would be carried out, journalists etc. would be forbidden to leave their zone without the permission of the head of the counter-terrorist operation; to “hinder” the operatives in carrying out the operation; to receive information about the operatives (infringement of public order); or to smuggle audio-video material out of the zone.
All together, this makes for a sensation: censorship – something directly prohibited by the constitution. The list of information to be made a state secret is defined in federal law – so it says in the constitution – and not by a head of a committee. Furthermore, information relevant to society should not be confidential.
Of course, there are reasonable restrictions, such as banning calls to commit terrorist acts. But laws are written for the officials, and not for independent courts. The main objective is to limit freedom of speech. The bill legalises ways of spreading disinformation to the public, tested in Chechnya and then used during the attacks on the Moscow Dubrovka theatre and at the school in Beslan.
The third element which needs to be mentioned concerns the courts. In the upcoming bill On Opposing Terrorism it is written that other, “simplified”, procedures can be applied in cases involving terrorism. These alterations are however left undefined. Judging by the way the Zara Murtazalieva case was fabricated, the room for vertical interference in trials will be expanded in the near future.
Why pass into law such an act? The so-called “organs of competence” already possess quite enough power in the fight against terrorism. The real purpose of the Chekist authorities’ legislative activity is obviously quite another: the limiting of the citizens’ civic and political activity, PRIMA-News Agency reported (Dmitry BELOMESTNOV).