“Let’s Not Multiply Repressive Legislation.” the United Russia Deputies in the Regional Legislative Assembly Pushed Through the Law on Foreign Agents, Despite Harsh Criticism

The document was approved in two readings

On November 25 the Legislative Assembly of Vladimir region adopted by a majority vote in two readings amendments to the regional electoral code, striking citizens who took part in activities of extremist or terrorist organizations, as well as introducing strict marking during election campaign for persons recognized as foreign agents or affiliated with them.

The law is written in the broadest possible terms. Its opponents claim that under the new order, a large number of people can be restricted in their voting rights. There are reasonable fears that the document will have retroactive effect and will hit those citizens who have previously cooperated with organizations, which were legal at the time, but later received a “black mark” from the state.

The law was supported by the speaker of the regional parliament Vladimir Kiselev, his associate from the “United Russia” party Alexander Tsyganskiy and deputy socialist Ivan Altukhov. The law was introduced by deputy Alexander Nefedov. He read an explanatory note:

“The norms of the electoral code of the Russian Federation are clarified, according to which, foreign citizens, stateless persons, foreign organizations, international organizations and international social movements, NCOs performing the functions of a foreign agent have no right to carry out activities facilitating or preventing the nomination of candidates, lists of candidates, the election of candidates, the initiative to conduct a referendum and referendum, to achieve results in elections, referendums, as well as in other forms to participate in electoral

The draft law provides that a candidate being a natural person acting as a foreign agent or a candidate affiliated with a person acting as a foreign agent shall indicate this information when agreeing to run for office in signature sheets and in campaign materials produced. It also establishes requirements for the placement of this information in campaign materials.

The draft law also proposes to consider that citizens involved in the activities of public or religious association or any other organization recognized as extremist or terrorist organizations by a court, do not have the right to be elected. This restriction would apply to persons involved in the activities of an extremist or terrorist organization.

This draft law was approved by the Governor of Vladimir region and the election commission. There were no comments and proposals. The Committee recommended the Legislative Assembly to pass the law in two readings”.

The only question to the bill was asked by deputy Maxim Shevchenko:

“I have a question about the participation in the electoral process of those citizens who cooperated with organizations that are recognized as extremist. After all, according to the logic of this law, it turns out that many collaborated with organizations when they were not extremist. And citizens didn’t know they were violating the law. Some organizations are only now recognized as extremist. It turns out that we are assisting in defeating the rights of citizens retroactively. How is such a collision? It just doesn’t make sense!”

It turned out that for sure no one knew whether the law would be retroactive or not. Individual lawmakers expressed confidence that it would not. Apparently, not all law enforcers in Russia share the opinion of Vladimir MPs, Maxim Shevchenko informed his colleagues.

Alexander Nefedov: Generally speaking, organizations are recognized as extremist organizations by court decision. But the law, as far as I understand, does not have retroactive effect. If you participated in the past and then the organization was recognized as extremist, it turns out that you can blame someone for working with this organization… well, this is my logic now. I could be wrong on this point.

Vladimir Kiselev: I also think, like Alexander Valeryanovich, that the law is not retroactive.

Sergei Shchedrin (deputy head of the regional election commission): “The federal legislature has established this provision. We are bringing it in line with federal law. This is why of course [we can’t refuse to accept it].

Vladimir Kiselev: If a person has previously participated in an organization and then it was deemed extremist, will he be punished for it? I think he will not be punished.

Sergei Schedrin: When the court decision comes, then he will be recognised as extremist.

Vladimir Kiselev: And if a person has previously participated?

Sergei Shchedrin: I think … that … most likely, no.

Maxim Shevchenko

Then the speeches of deputies began. CPRF deputies Anton Sidorko and Shamil Khabibullin spoke against it. They were supported by Sergey Kazakov and SR Sergey Biryukov. Yedinorossov was in favor.

Anton Sidorko: Dear colleagues, when a representative of the regional election commission says “probably,” it is already very alarming. And the alarming thing is the speed with which various organizations and media outlets in the Russian Federation today are recognised as foreign agents. For this reason, I believe that the adoption of this bill could become a tool for removing unwanted candidates from the political process. Since any politician works with non-governmental organizations and the media and receives services from them, every politician and deputy can be suspected of being affiliated with foreign agents.

Vladimir Kiselev (interrupting): Anton, not any politician.

Anton Sidorko: In my view, all this serves one single purpose – to restrict the rights of inconvenient candidates and politicians. So despite the fact that this is bringing it in line with federal law, I still urge not to support the federal legislator and give him the signal that he is wrong, that this is another punitive measure.

Shamil Khabibullin: I would now urge, if we don’t have a deadline for consideration, not to consider the bill as long as possible, and if considered, to vote against it. Our colleagues and I have many of our colleagues affiliated with community organizations. We may have Legislative Assembly elections next year, and an example is our colleague Alexander Tsygansky, who is affiliated with the NGO Memorial (recognized by the Russian state as a foreign agent). We are already setting up our colleague today, who will be forced to include this information in his campaign. Let us each consider for ourselves whether we need such an amendment or whether we can put it into a deep drawer and not make such a mistake.

Maxim Shevchenko: I am grateful to Vladimir Nikolayevich [Kiselyov] and Alexander Valeryanovich [Nefedov] for their reasonable human position. But, unfortunately, we are urged to take an anti-human and unreasonable stance. In the last elections this norm about “retroactively” has already been used against opposition politicians <…>. When an organization is recognized as extremist retroactively, and it gives people who are members of this organization a reason to restrict their rights. In addition, there is the phrase “involved in the activities. What does it mean?

Let’s say I, for example, defended the supporters of Alexei Navalny (recognized by the Russian state as a member of an extremist association) in the courts, not being a supporter myself and having political differences with him on matters of principle. But technically I’m involved in the activity. Let’s say I went to rallies to defend civil rights. Am I involved in activities? I suggest that language such as “class anti-Soviet activity” should not be included in our current legislation. I understand that Mr. Kartukhin reproached the CPRF for the collapse of the USSR. But after all, many of those who are here were members of the CPSU, which is responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union. Let us not multiply stupidly repressive legislation.

I propose that we should not vote for this shameful law which restricts the rights of huge categories of citizens and which is the first swallow of repression. “Memorial (an organization recognized by the Russian government as a foreign agent) is a foreign agent. This is simply shameful. One of the organizations that offers lawyers to doomed and stumped people – and I have seen this many times myself – is recognized as a foreign agent and banned from its activities at the suit of the FSB of Ingushetia. And there are a lot of other things that are multiplying. The Irkutsk Society of Bibliophiles, for example, has been recognized as a foreign agent. Obviously, it is a terrible, dangerous, and threatening organization for our country. So do not vote for this law in any case, do not put your names on the shameful register of those who voted for the anti-people and repressive laws. Please, friends, don’t do it.

Sergei Kazakov: I will not vote for this law and its vague wording. I once had a colleague, Vladimir Nikolaevich may also remember him. Eliseev Vitaly from Kovrov. He always said: “brevity is the sister of talent, but the mother of arbitrariness when it comes to the law. When the wording is short, not deciphered, then it can be interpreted as desired – both retrospectively and anteriorly. I would be against it.

Ivan Altukhov: I think this question is serious and fundamental. I am not alarmed by the wording. I have nothing to hide. Our colleagues from the Communist Party got so excited – someone’s head was on fire. If you have nothing to hide, the law is necessary. I have never had any kind of connection with any organizations, neither now nor in the past, foreign agents. I have never worked with such organizations. The law is necessary, we must protect our society, our politics, the independence of our states from the influence of the West. If someone is living on Western money, let them talk. What I don’t understand is that you are foreign agents? Are you afraid? You write openly, all yours will see and they will go to vote for you. I think this is an irresponsible policy of the CPRF. When they associate themselves with both the devil and the shaitan, the only thing that matters is the rating, the only thing that makes populist votes count. I will support this bill. People should know the truth.

Ivan Altukhov

Sergei Biryukov: “Just Russia” will not support this bill. Because our status as a foreign agent is granted extrajudicially. The Just Russia party submitted a proposal to change the law, so there is probably no need to rush to fulfill the deficiencies, even at the federal level. Perhaps we should know who foreign agents are. But we have to figure it out. Now the most venerable election contestants will have information booths saying that he is a foreign agent, that he is on trial, and that he has been involved in various organizations. And an honest candidate will have nothing to say about himself.

Alexander Tsygansky: I could not but speak. My name was mentioned here, alleging that I am a member of the organisation Memorial (recognised by the Russian state as a foreign agent). I want to set the record straight today. I have never been a member of Memorial (an organization recognized as a foreign agent by the Russian State), and never am. And the fact that I have taken part in any events – I was performing a representative function for the Legislative Assembly. I call on you to vote for this law today and I will vote for it myself.

Vladimir Kiselev: By the way, I also took part in these events held by Memorial (an organization recognised by the Russian State as a foreign agent), which means I too may be suspected to some extent, but I will also vote for it.

Maxim Shevchenko: I cooperated with Memorial (an organization recognized by the Russian state as a foreign agent). Not as a member, but as a human rights defender, as a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council. As someone who dealt with human rights in the most violent region where they were violated. And I am not ashamed that I cooperated with Memorial (an organization recognized by the Russian state as a foreign agent), I am honored. Both Ludmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva, who was closely connected to the work of Memorial (an organization recognized by the Russian government as a foreign agent), and Oleg Orlov are very decent people who defend rights and order.

I consider the closure of Memorial (an organization recognized as a foreign agent by the Russian government) to be the most shameful chapter of modern political history. It is not even that they are engaged in a history of repression. That is one aspect of what Memorial (an organization recognized by the Russian state as a foreign agent) does. That is not why it is being shut down. It’s being shut down for providing urgent legal help to people in the most difficult situations, when other lawyers are not willing to help for the most difficult articles. There are lawyers among you. Please do not support this law in any way. It is a cudgel that will hit you, too. You are decent people, decent people. Do not support it.

Sergei Kazakov: At one time they built a mosque in Chechnya. And foundations were set up there, to which Saudi Arabia and other countries sent money. Now this foundation would become a foreign agent, although they were doing a good job. I saw that mosque. You get one dollar or one euro, and you are already a foreign agent. You can even make a provocation – send them money and say – here he is a foreign agent. The law is crude. I would not be in a hurry to pass it.

The discussion was followed by a vote. Its course and results were announced by the speaker of the parliament. In the second reading 23 deputies voted for the law, eight were against it and two abstained. The law was adopted in two readings.

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