Over protests, Medvedev signs bill expanding FSB power

New York, August 2, 2010—A measure signed into law on Thursday by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will expand the powers of security agents and contribute to a climate of fear among government critics, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The law grants the Federal Security Service (FSB) authority to detain for up to 15 days anyone suspected of planning a crime against Russian security, local and international press reports said. The law does not specify how security agents would identify potential suspects, or what would constitute a potential crime against the nation’s security. 

Facing domestic and international protest, Russian lawmakers scrapped provisions in the original bill that would have explicitly allowed FSB agents to summon journalists for questioning over news coverage and to demand that editors censor articles considered to assist extremists.

“Although we welcome the removal of the censorship provision, we are still concerned by the effects of this law on critical and investigative reporters,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “It would bolster Russia’s security if authorities protected journalists’ right to investigate and report, instead of curbing their activities through vague legislation,”

The legislation was introduced in parliament in April following a deadly bombing at a Moscow subway a month earlier. Similar to the 2006 and 2007 amendments to the anti-extremism law—both of which broadened the definition of extremism to include media criticism of state officials and public discussion of extremist activities—the new legislation singles out media outlets as a source and accomplice to violence.

An explanatory note to the new legislation states in part: “Certain mass media outlets, including print and electronic, openly aid the formation of negative processes in the spiritual sphere, the affirmation of the cult of individualism and violence, and the mistrust in the ability of the state to defend its citizens, thus practically involving the youth in extremist activities.”

Local and international rights groups, including CPJ, had urged Russian lawmakers and Medvedev to scrap the legislation. Aleksei Simonov, head of the Moscow-based Glasnost Defense Foundation, told CPJ the law is bound to intimidate government critics because it “brands as extremists all those who disagree with the government, those who stand up against authorities.”