A new law expanding Russia’s definition of treason took effect yesterday.
Under the new law, anyone possessing information deemed secret – whether a politician, a journalist, an environmentalist or a union leader – could potentially be jailed for up to 20 years for espionage.
While the previous law described high treason as espionage or other assistance to a foreign state that damages Russia’s external security, the new legislation expands the definition by dropping the word “external.”
Activities that fall under it include getting financial help or advice from a foreign state or giving information to an international or foreign organization.
The law, which was drafted by the Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor agency known under its Russian acronym of FSB, also introduced a punishment of up to eight years for simply getting hold of state secrets illegally even if they aren’t passed to foreign hands.
The FSB explained in a statement run by the ITAR-Tass news agency that the new clause better protects confidential information.
It said the previous law, which dated to the 1960s, failed to provide an efficient deterrence against foreign spies.
“Tactics and methods of foreign special services have changed, becoming more subtle and disguised as legitimate actions,” the spy agency said.
“Claims about a possible twist of spy mania in connection with the law’s passage are ungrounded and based exclusively on emotions.”
The revised treason bill first came up in 2008.
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