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

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra 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.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid