Defending the State

<< No 9 (242), 6 March 2017 >>

♦  Alexander Podrabinek — On recent trends in Russian legislation  ♦

Radio Svoboda

Radio Svoboda

In early February, Vladimir PUTIN signed into law a State Duma-approved bill decriminalising domestic violence. Battery is no longer a criminal act, but rather an offence punishable by administrative penalties. Admittedly, for now, this only applies to first-time offenses.

The bill’s authors – whose names it is pointless to state given their total depersonalization – appealed to justice when defending the legal initiative. “Why does battery perpetrated by total strangers come under the Administrative Code,” they complained, “while battery that is perpetrated by relatives comes under the criminal one?”

Things should be equalized so that all first-time offences do not count as crimes! True, they could have equalized things the other way, making all forms of battery criminal acts rather than offences punishable by administrative penalties. But that would have meant going against the tide. After all, as recently as 2016, Russia passed laws decriminalising battery, failure to pay child support, and petty theft of others’ property. Such harm to the average citizen is not criminal.

On the one hand, it seems as if the norms of criminal law are being eased, which is not a bad thing in itself. In fact, it wouldn’t be so bad if such easing became a general trend as opposed to selective instances that occur exclusively in cases concerning crimes against the person.

One law for the Citizen, another for the State

Meanwhile, another trend has been observed: the strengthening of laws shielding the government and civil servants. In the State Duma, Putin has introduced a bill expanding the mandate of the Federal Protection Service (FSO), the bodyguards of Russia’s most important officials.

Employees of the FSO will now have permission to open fire if detainees or civilians attempt to approach them or to touch their firearms. FSO staff will also be granted the right to temporarily halt the movement of traffic and pedestrians. They will be allowed to use airports, airfields, heliports, landing strips, sea and river ports, public and private alike, without compensation. The administrative code is being amended so that noncompliance with orders or requests made by members of the security services is made punishable by a fine or fifteen days’ jail under administrative law.

Vyacheslav Lebedev, chairman of Russia’s Supreme Court, has introduced a bill of his own into the State Duma, entitled “On the Judicial Service of the Russian Federation.” The document proposes allowing employees of the judicial service to decide their own benefits, extra compensation, ranks, and uniforms. Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of the Federal Assembly, has suggested criminalising attacks on the honour and dignity of the office of the Russian president – on top of the Criminal Code’s section on “insulting a representative of the State,” a crime punishable by anything from a fine to a year of corrective labour.

In a word, there are two divergent legislative processes taking place. The rights of Russian citizens are losing the protection of the law, and the rights of State institutions are being strengthened through the law. Something similar has happened in recent Russian history. In the USSR, the theft of private property, for instance, was punishable by a sentence of 2 to 10 years, while that of State property was punishable by a sentence of 3 to 15 years.

The citizen is nothing, and the government is everything. This is the path to authoritarianism, and, for an authoritarian regime, there can be no other path.

Translated by Lincoln Pigman

The author is a journalist, author of Punitive Psychiatry (1980) and veteran human rights defender.

Moscow Helsinski Group
“Radio Svoboda”, 22 February 2017