News / Europe

Russia's Security Service Could Gain Powers Formerly Associated With Soviet KGB

Russia's parliament is considering a new law that would extend the powers of  the country's secret security agency, the FSB. If the bill is passed, it would restore practices once associated with the infamous KGB. Russia's security services have steadily regained power and influence under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB officer. Human rights advocates are concerned that the new measures could further curtail the rights of government critics and the independent media.

The KGB was one of the most feared instruments of the Kremlin during the Soviet Union and viewed by many as the world's most effective information gathering organization. It's successor organization, the FSB is engaged mostly in domestic affairs and its powers have been steadily growing. The current government-backed legislation would allow FSB officers to summon individuals for informal talks and issue written warnings about forbidden participation in anti-government activities such as protest rallies - even if they have not violated the law.

"The draft, as I currently understand it, we have very serious human rights concerns about it," said Allison Gill, the director of Moscow's office of Human Rights Watch. "It allows law enforcement agencies to literally question anyone about anything and to punish people through arrest or forced interrogation or deprivation of liberty for what would otherwise be a protected activity. Civil peaceful forms of dissent are protected by Russian law and they are protected by international human rights standards."

"Combatting extremism"

The Russian government says the proposed new measures are an effort to combat extremism.

In 2006, the Russian parliament passed anti-extremism legislation that expanded the definition of extremism to include the slandering of a public official, hindering the work of authorities and involvement in hooliganism or vandalism for ideological, religious or ethnic reasons.

Alexander Verkhovsky is director of the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis in Moscow, an organization dedicated to researching nationalism and xenophobia in Russia.

He says government claims that expanding the power of the FSB would stop extremism is ironic because he continues to be the victim of extremists, such as skinheads, because of the work he does. Furthermore, Verkhovsky says that law enforcement officials, including the FSB, have done absolutely nothing to help protect him and his family.

"Some Neo-Nazi groups, they sent us death threats by email or by phone," said Verkhovsky.  "Some even came to my house. They even sent me a video.  It explained that I am an enemy of the Russian people, that I support terrorists.  My house was exposed, my address, my photo. Officially, I was never called to the police station.  They never called me on the phone. They are not interested in this type of investigation and really are not involved."

Controls on journalists, media rights

The proposed bill also appears to tighten controls on journalists. It was submitted after Moscow's subway system was hit by dual suicide bombers at the end of March, killing at least 40 people.

Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, sharply criticized two major Russian newspapers for their coverage of the event. Gryzlov implied that the journalists had taken the side of the terrorists by claiming that the Kremlin's policies, in the Northern Caucuses region, may have contributed to a rise in the violence in the region, and may have accounted for the subway bombings.

Allison Gill, with Human Rights Watch in Moscow, says the proposed law would have grave consequences for press freedom.

"This could present serious obstacles to journalists. It's in the public's interest for journalists to be able to report freely and independently they have to be able to write without fear of legal sanctions," said Gill. "It would limit journalists on what they are allowed to write or it would require cooperation between journalists and law enforcement authorities. That would have a chilling effect on what stories journalists are allowed to report that are supposed to be in the public's interest."

Human rights lawyer Lidia Yusupova has done a lot of work in both war ravaged Chechnya and in Moscow. She says the FSB already has too much access to the average person. Yusupova voiced her concerns and the video was also posted on the internet website, YouTube.

She says the best way is to tap phones; the secret service does not have to work hard for information. She says she feels safer in Chechnya than she does in Moscow.

Medvedev defends FSB

On the other hand, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has defended the FSB and commented on how important the organization is to the average Russian.

He recently gave a speech to the agency's board. Mr. Medvedev says ensuring the security of Russia is one of the top priorities. He says most important is the fight against terrorism and extremism. Last year the FSB succeeded in preventing more than 80 terrorist attacks and neutralized more than 500 leaders and members of criminal groups.

It is unclear when the bill will come up for a vote in Russia's lower house of parliament, otherwise known as the Duma. It could be amended in the meantime or even scuttled.

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid