Russian parliament enlarges powers of KGB successor

16th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

The Russian parliament on Friday passed a controversial bill expanding what rights groups say are the already formidable powers of the successor to the Soviet-era KGB security service.

A total of 354 deputies in the State Duma, the lower house, voted for the bill on its third and final reading, and 96 against, an AFP correspondent said.

The bill -- which Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says was drawn up on his instructions to improve existing legislation -- would allow the Federal Security Service (FSB) to issue official warnings to individuals whose actions are deemed to be creating the conditions for crime.

Individuals deemed to have hindered an FSB employee in his work can also be fined or held in detention for up to 15 days, according to the bill.

While the ruling United Russia party headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic party voted in favour of the bill, the Communists and A Just Russia party voted against it.

Liberal Democratic party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky argued that many had simply misinterpreted the meaning of the bill.

"This is not a repressive law. No one is going to arrest or deprive anyone of freedom. We are only talking about one thing -- preventative measures."

But rights groups say the bill, which would essentially put the special service above the law, harks back to Soviet times when the much-feared FSB predecessor KGB used warnings to persecute dissidents.

In response to protests from human rights activists, lawmakers removed an amendment allowing the FSB to summon people to their offices to hand out the warnings and also publish their warnings in the media.

They also added a provision for people to appeal against the warnings.

Medvedev on Thursday defended the bill saying its aim was to improve Russian legislation.

"Every country has a right to perfect its legislation, including in respect to special services," he said. "And what is happening today -- I would like you to know that -- has been done on my direct instructions."

Under the 2000-2008 presidency of former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, FSB dramatically increased its influence over Russian society. Human rights activists had hoped his successor at the Kremlin, Medvedev, a lawyer by training without a KGB past, would put the special services in check.

Despite several changes to the bill, "the concept of the proposed law remains the same and is extremely dangerous," For Human Rights movement said this week.

"The new bill gives the FSB back the powers of special services of totalitarian regimes."

© 2010 AFP

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