MOSCOW (AP) – Russia has broadened the authority of the Federal Security Service, the KGB’s main successor agency, giving it Soviet-style repressive powers in a move critics say could be used to stifle protests and intimidate government opponents.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a law Thursday allowing the agency, known by its initials FSB, to issue warnings or detain people suspected of preparing to commit crimes against Russia’s security – which could include participating in anti-government rallies. Perpetrators face fines or up to 15 days detention.
Like many past restrictions, the law was described as part of an effort to combat extremism. The bill, submitted to Russian lawmakers in April, followed twin subway bombings in Moscow that killed 40 people and reflected the Kremlin’s dissatisfaction with critical media coverage of its anti-terrorism efforts.
A senior lawmaker said the law protects people from abuse by law enforcement officers.
“Officers of law enforcement agencies have long talked about the necessity of switching from investigating crimes to their prevention,” Mikhail Margelov, the Kremlin-connected head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russian parliament, said in a statement. “The amendments do not turn FSB into a new edition of once-almighty KGB but protect Russian citizens from outrages by men in uniform.”
Some of the law’s articles, including ones that toughen control over media for “extremist statements” and allow FSB to publish warnings in the press, were removed or toned down following severe criticism from opposition and even Kremlin loyalists.
However, a lawmaker with the Communist party that remains the largest opposition force in Russia’s rubber-stamp parliament, said the amendments did not change the law’s repressive character.
“Despite all the promises to correct the most odious articles, by the second reading nothing has been changed in the text,” Viktor Ilykhin told The Associated Press.
A Kremlin loyalist from a nationalist party praised the law for its “preventative measures.”
“This is not a repressive law,” Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic party, told Gazeta.ru online daily. “We’re only talking about preventive measures.”