Russian lawmakers are considering two bills that would give the FSB – the former KGB – sweeping powers against extremists. Critics cast it as a Soviet throwback that would enable the Kremlin to crack down on its opponents.
Critics and human rights workers worry that the pending changes, which some see as a response to the rising Islamist insurgency in the Caucasus, will allow the Kremlin to crack down not only on extremists but activists and opposition lawmakers as well. The new legislation also calls into question President Dmitri Medvedev's ability and willingness to implement the more liberal agenda he outlined after ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin stepped aside in 2008, becoming prime minister.
"No one doubts that a country needs the tools to protect itself from crime and terrorism," says Allison Gill, Moscow director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch. "But there are already plenty of strong laws on the books, and the FSB isn't particularly short of powers. My concern is that these laws seem to fly in the face of Medvedev's basic commitment to human rights and democracy.... [These laws] have massive implications for freedom of speech, dissent, and civic activity."
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