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

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"Though these amendments are not even passed yet, many people have already started to become more prudent in their contacts with foreigners," says Andrei Soldatov, editor on, an online journal devoted to studying the security services, and coauthor of "The New Nobility," which details the return to power in Russia of the former Soviet KGB.

"The new definition of treason that's before the Duma is a direct Soviet legacy. Treason will no longer be about a specific crime, but more about what's in your heart, whether you're truly loyal, as determined by the authorities. I can't even understand how it might be used," says Mr. Soldatov.

"Now, not only the person who divulges a secret, but also the person who asked – such as a journalist – can be charged with treason. It's dangerously vague," he adds.

Broadened definitions of espionage

Addressing the Duma last Friday, FSB deputy director Yury Gorbunov said that classic definitions of espionage and treason had to be broadened to include cooperation with international organizations, which might include NGOs and media groups, because the world has become more dangerous.

"We should include international organizations on the list of agents that can be charged with treason due to the fact that foreign intelligence agencies actively use them to camouflage their spying activity," Mr. Gorbunov said.

The proposed legislation follows the high-profile ejection of the US Agency for International Development from Russia last week after the Kremlin accused it of interfering with Russia's internal political processes.

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