FSB widens definition of treason

The FSB's headquarters on Lubyanka in Moscow. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Treason-hunters at FSB’s headquarters Lubyanka get a wider target group after the State Duma last Friday tentatively approved a treason bill to include moves against Russia’s “constitutional order, sovereignty and territorial and state integrity.”


Human Right groups and NGOs say the amendments to Russia’s current treason law are a part of a continuing crackdown on foreign-funded organizations in Russia. 

“I have a feeling that they are again pulling down the Iron Curtain. The bill is aimed at ending any independent public activism in the country,” Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group says to Interfax.

The old treason law defines high treason as espionage or assistance to another state aimed at damaging Russia’s external security. The new text widens the definition to include moves against Russia’s constitutional order, sovereignty and territorial and state integrity, reports the Moscow Times.

The newspaper quotes human right activist Lev Ponomaryov claiming the new bill could be used to consider any opposition activity dangerous.

The widen treason bill also include activities such as consultative or financial assistance not only to a foreign state but also to a foreign organization.

Vedomosti newspaper says the old treason bill was difficult to use by the prosecutors since they have to prove the “hostile” nature of the defendant’s activities. With the new wording in Article 276, prosecutors will get easier days in court. Article 283, on disclosure of state secrets, will with the new wording says that people could learn state secrets not only in the line of duty or work, but also while studying.

The amendment texts was originally written by FSB back in 2008, but was stopped by Dmitri Medvedev following protests from human rights organizations.

Also other NGOs say the bill is aimed at stopping critical voices in Russia. 

“This is yet another bill from the series of recent laws meant to tighten the noose around the necks of Russia’s citizens, especially those who work with NGOs, who work as journalists, who work as researchers as well as those who work as scientists,” says Alexander Nikitin, chairman of the St. Petersburg based Environment and Rights Center (ERC) Bellona in an article about the new treason bill on the organization’s portal. 

Nikitin was arrested and charged with espionage in 1996 for his work with a Bellona report on the lack of nuclear and radiation safety by the Russian Northern Fleet. The Presidium of the Supreme Court in Moscow finally acquitted him in 2000.

The new bill follows an intensified trend of crackdown on civil society in Russia over the last few months. In July, the bill on NGOs was approved, instructing all non-governmental organizations that get foreign funding to officially brand themselves as “Foreign agents.”

Last week, USAID was shown to the door, ending all its funding activities in Russia, including in the Barents Region.

In June, BarentsObserver  reported on the wide range of new measures taken by Moscow aimed to curb demonstrations. One of the laws increased the fines for participating in a street protest up to 300,000 RUB (€7,500).