MOSCOW – The first six months of Vladimir Putin's return to Russia's presidency, after a four-year sojourn as prime minister, have brought an array of tough measures that critics say are aimed at intimidating the opposition. The latest, expanding the definition of treason, went into force Wednesday.
A look at the recent laws:
Under the new treason law, anyone possessing information deemed a state secret could be imprisoned for up to 20 years. The old law defined high treason as espionage or other assistance to a foreign state that damaged Russia's external security; the new law drops the word "external." Human rights advocates say the new definition is so broad and vague that the government could brand any dissident a traitor.
A law passed in June hiked the possible fine for participating in unauthorized protests 150-fold, to 300,000 rubles (nearly $9,000), which is close to the country's average annual salary. The massive protest rallies that arose after last December's fraud-tainted parliamentary elections were all sanctioned by authorities, but it is unclear how long that relative permissiveness will continue.
Another new measure requires non-governmental organizations that receive foreign funding and engage in political activity to register as foreign agents. Critics say the designation is aimed at undermining the groups' credibility and note that almost any activity could be construed as political. Some human rights groups have vowed to defy the law, while others plan to refuse foreign funding and try to continue operations on reduced budgets.
Lawmakers gave authorities wide powers to place websites on a blacklist, ostensibly to combat child pornography, promotion of drug abuse and other harmful information. Critics say the procedure for banning a site is very opaque and could be used to stifle dissent.