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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: June 23, 2016

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
State Duma Removes Statutes on Stripping Russians of Citizenship for Inciting or Committing Terrorist Acts
The State Duma Committee on Security and Anti-Corruption has removed from a set of draft anti-terrorist legislation statutes a provision for stripping people of their Russian citizenship for inciting or committing terrorist acts, Novaya Gazeta reported, citing TASS.

The "Yarovaya Package," as it has been dubbed in the Russia media, is named for Irina Yarovaya, the United Russia party member and chair of the State Duma Committee on Security and Anti-Corruption who, along with Viktor Ozerov, has sponsored the legislation.

The package of multiple amendments to existing laws on terrorism has been widely discussed in the Russian media as it has gone through various versions. Liberals fear it it will further erode human rights; Meduza, the Russian publication in exile in Latvia, said the legislation was "the harshest in many years," restricting rights that had previously been guaranteed by the Constitution. 

The State Duma postponed voting on the measure, initiated in April, to June 24, after softening some aspects of the draft law on June 20. 

Originally, the draft called for stripping citizenship from those who had "an official warning on the impermissibility of involvement in terrorist or extremist activity," but then this was changed to removal of citizenship only for those actually sentenced. Now TASS has said all mentions of removal of 
citizenship are gone from the draft, including for "exercising activity in international organizations in which the Russian Federation does not take part, without the consent of the authorized bodies of the Russian Federation." Apparently this was designed to punish either rogue delegations or independent delegations in multilateral organizations recognized by bodies outside of Russia but not within Russia.

The Russian Constitution bars the removal of Russian citizenship, in response to a common practice in the Soviet era when dissidents like prominent writer Vasily Aksyonov and celloist Mstislav Rostropovich had their citizenship revoked for their critical views. Meduza explained that MPs figured they could get around the constitutional ban at odds with their draft law by the exception provided for "voluntary renunciation of citizenship of Russia"; thus work in international organizations or governments contrary to the law will be interpreted as "voluntary will of a person, expressed in the form of commission of actions" and constitute the "voluntary renunciation." Previously, Russian law did not even provide for such voluntary withdrawal of citizenship; now it does.

As the mass publication Argumenty i Fakty explains, the legislation increases the penalties for "calls to terrorist activities" and "justification of terrorism" on the Internet to a maximum punishment of 7 years of imprisonment with a ban on holding certain offices for five years.

It also introduces into Russian law the concept of "international terrorism" for  "committing beyond the boundaries of the territory of Russian, an explosion, fire or other actions subjecting citizens of Russia to danger of life, health, freedom or inviolability."

Further, the concept of "missionary activity" is introduced into law, stipulating that only representatives of registered organizations and groups or those who have concluded an official agreement with such groups can practice evangelizing or recruitment. Every missionary has to have a document confirming his official status in his possession.

Also the notion of "non-reporting of a crime" is introduced, penalizing those who fail to tell law enforcement about the preparations of terrorist attacks.

Persons who have not completed sentences for "terrorism" are barred from leaving Russia.

Other penalties have been adding including increase of the terms of maximum imprisonment for events, or introduce a lower threshold for imprisonment. For example, a person sentenced for "incitement of hatred and enmity" in which force was not used can now face a maximum of 4 years of prison. Some MPs proposed extending this to five years, with a minimum of two years. 

The amendments to the law on "organization of an extremist association"  would provide for imprisonment for 2-6 years for participation in such an organization and 6-10 years for organizing it; a further penalty for "organization of extremist activity" has been increased to 6-10 years as well. The penalty for "financing extremist activity" has increased from up to 3 years to from 3-8 years.

"Terrorism" is also defined as "inclining recruiting or other involvement" in an "organization of mass disorders," punishable from 5-10 years.

Telecommunications operations and Internet service providers are now obligated to hold recordings of telephone conversations and copies of subscribers' correspondence for up to six months. So all voice recordings, correspondence, images, sounds, video and any other communications of users will have to be stored and available to be read by authorities.

The law would also order the post office to run all packages through metal detectors or X-ray machines and forbid the mailing of cash, weapons, drugs, poisons, perishables or other harmful items.

The draft law lowers the age of responsibility for offenses to 14  years for "international terrorism," and for other offenses in the package which include "participation in terrorist associations, terrorist organizations and unlawful armed formations," "undertaking training in terrorism," "participation in mass disorders," "attempt on the life of a state or civic figure or attack on persons and institutions which enjoy international protection and also for hijacking a plane, train, or water transport" and finally for "failure to report a crime."

Russia has been plagued by numerous terrorist attacks in recent years, usually in the North Caucasus. Every year, law-enforcers report that they have shot dead several hundred terrorist suspects during raids or at checkpoints. The figure for those killed has been lower in the last year as increasing numbers of Islamist fighters have gone to Syria to join ISIS. Russian officials say that as many as 2,000 who fought with ISIS have been killed on the battlefield and that they are preventing any survivors from returning. Yet nearly ever month in Dagestan, Ingushetia, or Chechnya, there is an incident in which a militant claiming allegiance to ISIS is involved in shooting people or bombing targets.

Russia is now extending the definition of "terrorism" very broadly to include some forms of opposition activity, and "separatism," i.e. such as the movement in Siberia demanding "federalization" to obtain more autonomy over resource usage. The fact that Alexey Navalny, an opposition leader known for his exposes of corrupt officials, and Dmitry Nekrasov, a member of the Yabloko Party and the opposition Coordinating Committee forced to flee Russia, were questioned about "terrorism" by officials or warned of investigations on "terrorism" indicate how overbroad the official definition has become.

 -- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Censor Blocks Amazon Cloud Service Over Poker Site
Amazon Cloud Service, which hosts a large number of sites in Russia, has been blocked by Roskomnadzor, the state censor, Novaya Gazeta reports, citing Izvestiya.

Vadim Ampelonsky, representative for Roskomnadzor, confirmed the news, saying that at the request of the Federal Tax Service, it had placed Amazon on a black list for violating Russian law. As Ampelonsky explained (translation by The Interpreter):

"An advertisement for the poker room 888poker is placed on the page indicated, and also placed is a reference to downloading an app for a personal computer enabling poker playing online. The authorized body (the Federal Tax Service of the Russian Federation) considers its claimed against the page are grounded, since present on the page is the opportunity to download an app for a game."

Roskomnadzor said it sent a notice to Amazon, but there was no response. As a result, Amazon S3 has been placed on the register of banned sites. A number of services use the Amazon S3 servers, including NetFlix, Airbnb, Twitter, Dropbox and others that are popular in Russia as they are around the world. According to Izvestiya, the number of visitors per month on the service us about 71.6 million, and of these, 21.4 million are users from Russia.

It's not clear how Izvestiya got these numbers as Amazon itself does not publish the figures for monthly unique visitors and declines to answer questions about the totals. It also seems unlikely that Russian visitors would make up nearly a third of all Amazin cloud service visitors worldwide. Perhaps the figures are take just from one region.

It's also not clear why Roskomnadzor itself can't just block the objectional poker ad instead of the entire Amazon service.

The ban was made under a law passed in 2015 banning gambling on the Internet which gave the Federal Tax Service the power to locate such sites and then send the information to Roskomnadzor to block.

Sergei Grebennikov, head of ROTsIT (Regional Public Center for Internet Technologies), took the side of Roskomnadzor on the banning of Amazin. He said Roskomnadzor was just doing its job and has to block sites that violate Russian law:

"The claims here are against Amazon which is placing sites on its servers that violate the laws of various countries and does not block access to such content at the request of local authorities."

Russia has been working on developing its own cloud service to replace Microsoft's Azure and Amazon Cloud.

Amazon itself closed its cloud service in Russian-occupied Crimea last February after President Barack Obama signed an embargo on doing business with companies in Crimea.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick