Hello Stalin: Russian citizens will face up to 8 years for unauthorized contact with foreigners

The Stalinist article of the Russian Criminal Code, where a conversation with a foreigner is equated with espionage, states that the court could appoint 10 years in the camps for such contact.

The State Duma (Russian Federation) adopted in the first reading a bill that toughens and expands punishment under a number of articles of the Criminal Code, and introduces a new article on treason – 275.1 – for “Confidential cooperation with special services of foreign states.” The punishment under the planned article is from 2 to 8 years in prison with a fine of up to one million rubles.

Under “confidential cooperation,” the future article of the Criminal Code means contacts not only with the special services but also with “an international or foreign organization and their representatives to assist them in activities against the security of the Russian Federation.”

The wording of this article does not clarify how to distinguish between an enemy foreign organization and a friendly one. Technically, anyone can be hostile – after all, there are no lists and registers yet. As a result, anything can become “activities against the security of Russia”, at the request of the investigation. As in cases of treason, which can be committed without even realising it.

The draft law defines an international or foreign organization as an organisation acting in the interests of the intelligence services of a foreign state, as well as an international or foreign private military or intelligence company.

Criminal liability is removed if the contact was authorized by the competent authorities, but the bill does not detail who will need to ask permission and in what form.

“The wording of the article is as vague as possible, and any contact with foreigners can fall under the composition. “Spies” do not wear badges, and the legislation does not provide for a list of organisations acting in the interests of foreign intelligence services,” says Anastasia Burakova, a lawyer.

According to her, an analogy can be drawn here with cases of “undesirability”: “there the investigation is based on political science expertise, where “specialists” classify as undesirable completely legal civil society institutions that are not recognized by the Prosecutor General’s Office as such, under the pretext of their alleged affiliation with organizations from the list”.

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