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New Law on State Secrets Comes into Force

14 November 2012 

Source: (info)

The law, which introduces amendments to the Criminal Code’s articles on treason and espionage, took effect on 14 November. The law, published in Rossiiskaya gazeta, introduces an article on illegally obtaining information constituting a state secret into the Criminal Code, as well as changes to three existing articles: Treason, Espionage, and Divulging state secrets. In particular, the definition of 'treason' is being expanded: criminal prosecution is now stipulated, not only for handing over state secrets, but also for any assistance given to a foreign state, international or foreign organisation engaged in activity directed against Russia's security.

In turn, espionage is said to be the gathering by a foreign person of any information - not necessarily constituting a state secret - with the intention of delivering it for use against Russia's security, notes

In addition, the range of people that can be held accountable for spreading state secrets is growing. The new law requires punishment for disclosing secret information obtained not only at work, but also in the course of study and "otherwise".

New Article 283.1 makes provision for a 200 to 500 thousand-rouble fine, imprisonment for up to four years or, with aggravating circumstances, up to eight years for illegally obtaining state secrets.

According to an announcement made in the FSB's Public Relations Centre, it was necessary to make the changes because foreign secret services have become "more covert" and "are disguising their activities as lawful ones", and yet the relevant articles of the Criminal Code have not been updated since the 1960s, reports ITAR-TASS.

The FSB also stressed that the legislative changes do not increase liability; they simply describe the concepts of 'espionage' and 'treason' more accurately in order to avoid their definitions being expanded. In particular, the concept of "external security", which is not to be found in the legislation, has been replaced with "the security of the Russian Federation," and the vague term "hostile activity" has been dropped.

Andrey Klishas, who heads the Federation Council Committee for Constitutional Law, told Rossiiskaya Gazeta that "the public wave of indignation at this law stems from a lack of understanding of the legal nature of the changes taking place". According to the official, "any clarification of the constituent elements of a crime" amounts to additional protection for citizens' rights.

At the end of October, Russian human rights campaigners slated a new law on state secrets, which, in their view, runs contrary to the Russian Constitution. The Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, headed by Mikhail Fedotov, Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin, the human rights campaigners Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Valery Borshchev, Svetlana Gannushkina, Lev Ponomarev and Liliya Shibanova all came out in opposition to the law.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, commenting on the new law on 11 November at a meeting of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, said that it required further consideration because "the definition of what constitutes treason should not be expanded at this point".