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Cablegate: New Extremism Law: More of the Same Constraints

VZCZCXRO7642
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #3363/01 1910639
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 100639Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1941
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 4295
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2547
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 2244

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 003363

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR RS
SUBJECT: NEW EXTREMISM LAW: MORE OF THE SAME CONSTRAINTS


MOSCOW 00003363 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: On July 6, in response to President
Putin's December 2006 "Presidential Instruction" to combat
extremism, the Duma resuscitated and passed a heavily
re-drafted extremism law, over the opposition of minority
political parties and concerns of some in the majority. The
amendments, expected to be approved by the Federation Council
on July 11:

-- expand the definition of extremist activity to include
political or ideological hatred or hatred connected to a
social group;

-- require media to identify groups that have been banned or
liquidated by the GOR, as such, whenever there is a reference
to them;

-- allow printers or publishers who distribute extremist
material to be fined; and,

-- allow law enforcement bodies to wiretap those suspected of
extremist activity.

Just Russia and the Communist Party (KPRF) fear that the
amendments will chill political speech during the upcoming
December Duma election campaign and are wary about the
wiretapping provisions. Human rights groups condemn
amendments, but note that they will not meaningfully change
the status quo. Although the law will undoubtedly go on to
be approved by the Federation Council on July 11, its
practical effect may be minimal on "extremist" activities.
In enacting this legislation, the GOR will signal again its
intent to investigate aggressively "extremists," who - in
practice - are disproportionately members of the political
opposition or liberal press. End summary.

--------------
The Amendments
--------------

2. (U) This is the second set of amendments that the Duma
has passed in response to President Putin's December 2006
Instruction to combat extremism. The first set, approved in
April 2007, substantially increased prison sentences for
violations. This second set passed its first reading on May
16; among other things, it would have increased prison
sentences for extremist behavior and widened the definition
of extremism. While supporting Duma deputies stated that the
amendments clarified the definition of "extremism", many
observers feared that it was specifically aimed at supporters
and organizers of the "Marches of Dissent."

3. (U) Negotiations leading up to the second, and most
critical, reading, however, ran into opposition from minority
political parties. Not all GOR institutions were supportive
either. In noting the broadness of the definition of
"extremism," FSB representative Sergey Kundelchuk
rhetorically wondered how the international community might
react. Even the Federation Council committee charged with
overseeing legislative efforts against extremist activity
expressed doubt about the effectiveness of the proposed
legislation, suggesting that a combination of a "new
ideology" for Russia and citizen education would be more
useful than essentially replicating laws that already exist.
On June 29, consideration of the amendments for the second
reading was deferred until, according to a member of the
drafting committee, a "much later" date.

4. (U) Then, on July 4, the legislation was abruptly
introduced for its second reading and was approved (321 for,
45 against). The amendments passed quickly through the third
reading on July 6 (311 for, 90 against), in a vote that
reflected an uncommon level of dissent in the current Duma.
The amendments expand the definition of extremist activity to
include political or ideological hatred or hatred connected
to a social group; require media to identify groups that have
been banned or liquidated by the GOR, as such, at every
reference; allow printers or publishers who distribute
extremist material to be fined; and, allow law enforcement
bodies to eavesdrop on those suspected of extremist activity.

--------------------------
Opposition Parties Unhappy
--------------------------

5. (SBU) The KPRF has consistently opposed the legislation,
concerned that it will be used to attack political speech.
KPRF Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin called the legislation an
attempt to gag all speech and predicted unfettered

MOSCOW 00003363 002.2 OF 002


wiretapping. Just Russia Duma Deputy Gennadiy Gudkov,
arguing that the law could be absurdly extended to jail those
who criticize bureaucrats, also concluded that the amendments
would remove all limits on wiretapping.

-------------------------------
Human Rights Groups Unimpressed
-------------------------------

6. (SBU) Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila
Alekseyeva told us July 5 that while there was nothing
positive about the amendments, she believed them superfluous,
given existing legislation, and criticized the vagueness of
the definition of "extremism." SOVA's Aleksandr Verkhovskiy
cautioned us that he had not read the final legislation, but
did not see it providing the GOR with any extra leverage
against NGOs, pointing out that the GOR already has enough.

-------
Comment
-------

7. (SBU) Since the amendments fulfill a Presidential
Instruction, they will undoubtedly be passed by the
Federation Council on July 11 and signed into law. The
amendments are less significant for their substance, than for
the message the GOR has reinforced of its intent to
investigate aggressively "extremists," who to date have been
disproportionately the liberal opposition and journalists
critical of the GOR.
BURNS

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