Russia`s Duma OKs more power for security service

Russia`s lower house of Parliament approved a bill on Friday that would widen the powers of the Federal Security Service, the KGB`s main successor agency -- a proposal that has alarmed opposition activists.

Last Updated: Jul 17, 2010, 00:36 AM IST

Moscow: Russia`s lower house of Parliament
approved a bill on Friday that would widen the powers of the
Federal Security Service, the KGB`s main successor agency -- a
proposal that has alarmed opposition activists.

The bill would allow the agency, known by its initials
FSB, to issue warnings to people suspected of preparing to
commit crimes against Russia`s security. Critics say this
power could be used to intimidate government opponents and
stifle protests.

The bill was approved in the State Duma by a vote of
354-96. Members of the Communist and A Just Russia parties
voted against it.

"The new proposed law returns to the FSB the power of the
special services of a totalitarian regime," a statement signed
by prominent pro-democracy and human rights activists said.

"The initiators, most likely, intend to create an
instrument for mass intimidation of people who are
dissatisfied, dissidents and critics of the authorities --
including the FSB."

The statement calls on the upper house of parliament, the
Federation Council, to reject the bill. But such a move
appears strongly unlikely; the Federation Council is seen
largely as a rubber-stamp body for the government.

The bill has raised doubts about President Dmitry
Medvedev`s commitment to promoting full-fledged democracy and
freedom of expression. Medvedev often has spoken of
instituting judicial and police reforms, and has taken a less
hard line on many issues than his predecessor Vladimir Putin,
a former KGB agent and later head of the FSB.

Putin is now prime minister and many see his intolerance
of dissent as influencing the Kremlin.

But Medvedev, when asked at a news conference yesterday
about the proposed law, said it was his initiative and said
the country has "the right to improve its own legislation."

Opposition groups frequently are denied permission to
hold rallies or are allowed to hold them only in
out-of-the-way neighborhoods. Riot police often break up
unsanctioned rally attempts swiftly and brutally.

The liberal party Yabloko said three of its activists
were arrested outside the Duma as they protested the bill that
was about to be voted on.

PTI