New Russian law revives sweeping KGB powers

A new law which gives Russian security services sweeping powers to question people about crimes that have not yet been committed is being criticised by human rights activists as a dangerous return to the era of the KGB.

The bill, passed yesterday by the upper house of Russia's parliament, allows the FSB, the successor to the notorious Soviet-era spy agency, to issue warnings to people suspected of planning crimes. Another provision in the bill allows for fines or short jail sentences to be imposed on anyone who obstructs the work of FSB agents.

The bill was first suggested in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the Moscow underground in March, and is ostensibly aimed at cracking down on insurgents in the North Caucasus and those who aid them. But the fear is that the law will be wielded as an instrument to threaten anyone who is in opposition to the Kremlin, as well as to journalists investigating sensitive stories.

The human rights organisation Memorial said that the law was "partly pointless and partly dangerous for social freedoms". It said the bill was reminiscent of KGB "prevention" techniques which did not prevent actual crimes but instead were used as an excuse to crack down on political opposition to the Soviet regime.

After a public outcry, the bill was watered down from an initial draft that would have forced those whom the FSB wanted to "warn" to present themselves for an interview, with the penalty of a jail sentence if they did not comply. The revised version says that the FSB can warn a person that they are "on the boundary" of committing a crime, but does not specify what further measures can be taken.

President Dmitry Medvedev is now expected to sign the bill into law.

Andrei Soldatov, a journalist and expert on Russia's security services, said he was worried about the impact of the new legislation. "Previously the FSB needed a legal reason to talk to journalists; now they don't need this – they can just say that they are making enquiries as a preventative measure," he said. "It could be especially dangerous in the regions, where journalists are still very much controlled by the local administrations. This could make things very hard for local journalists and human rights activists."

A source in the FSB told Vedomosti newspaper that the powers were required so that the service could have a new method of exerting pressure, especially when recruiting informants. Previously, said the source, the FSB could only put pressure on someone if they were dealing with state secrets, but now if the service wants to recruit informants in local governments, major companies, and so on, they can use the new law as a way to threaten their targets.

Supporters of the bill in the United Russia Party, which is led by the powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, insisted that there was nothing to be worried about. "The legislation measures up to the highest and most humanistic standards of a state governed by the rule of law," said Vladimir Vasiliyev, the chairman of the State Duma's Security Committee, and an MP from United Russia.

Under the eight-year presidency of Mr Putin – himself a former head of the FSB – the security agency's powers and prestige were boosted. Mr Putin positioned many former KGB and FSB agents in top governmental posts. Mr Medvedev, however, does not have a background in the security services and has spoken on many occasions about the need for a more free and open society in Russia.

Few of his actions while in power have matched his lofty words, however, and in this case he insisted that the changes were justified. The Russian President brushed off criticism of the bill, and insisted that it was instigated on his own initiative and that foreigners had no right to criticise it.

"Every country has the right to improve its legislation, including laws concerning the special services. And we are going to do that," he said last week, when asked about the controversial bill during a press conference with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform