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EU Expresses Concern About Russia Treason Law

Opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov (C) talks to the media after leaving a building of the Russian Investigative Committee in Moscow, October 17, 2012. Russian investigators have begun criminal proceedings against the prominent leader of protests against Pr
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has expressed concern about Russia's new legislation that broadens the definition of treason.

Ashton's office issued a statement Thursday, saying "the new law would expand the scope for prosecution of and reduce the burden of proof for charges of treason and espionage."

Current law describes high treason as espionage or other assistance to a foreign state damaging Russia's external security. The new bill expands it to include moves it describes as being against Russia's "constitutional order, sovereignty and territorial and state integrity.'' It also changes the interpretation of treason to include activities such as financial or consultative assistance to a foreign state or an international organization.

Russia's lower house of parliament, or Duma, on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed the bill drafted by the Federal Security Service. It is expected to pass swiftly through the upper house before it is signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

Critics say the new law is part of the Kremlin's crackdown on dissent.

Ashton noted that the new law follows a number of recent legislative and judicial developments in Russia that, taken together, "would limit the space for civil society development, and increase the scope for intimidation."

Moscow has rejected human rights concerns, saying the law is being enacted to strengthen security.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.