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Russian NGOs in panic mode over proposed 'high treason' law

Russia's new definition of high treason, which is likely to pass, could apply to any behavior that undermines 'constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial and state integrity' in authorities' eyes.

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When the Kremlin-dominated State Duma passed a new law last summer requiring any "politically active" nongovernmental organization that receives any amount of outside funding to register as a "foreign agent," many people in Russia's broader NGO community became deeply alarmed.

Now, after the Duma unanimously passed – on the first of three readings – new amendments proposed by the Federal Security Service (FSB) that will extend the definition of "high treason" so that it can be applied to almost any Russian citizen who works with foreign organizations, they are in full panic mode.

The new terms, which seem almost certain to sail through the Duma in coming days and be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, will mean that "treason" no longer refers only to a concrete crime, such as knowingly passing state secrets to a foreign power, but could apply to any behavior that undermines  "constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial and state integrity" in the eyes of the authorities. Under the new terms, any person that discloses information the state considers a secret to any "foreign government or international, foreign organization," even if that person has no access to classified materials and didn't know it was a secret, may be accused of betraying their country and face a potential 20 years in prison. It is unclear when the law, if enacted, would go into effect.

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