President Medvedev's bill to increase secret police powers has won parliament's approval. Human rights activists fear the government may use the law against the opposition, returning to a Soviet-style police state.
The Russian upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, has approved a bill aimed at widening the powers of the secret police (FSB), successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
The new law would allow the FSB to call citizens in for "precautionary talks" in connection with potential crimes that agents believe may be committed in the future. Secret police would be allowed to take such measures without firm evidence.
Those who fail to attend such meetings could be slapped with fines of about $1,500 (1,160 euros) or 15 days of jail time.
Fighting terrorists - or intimidating the opposition?
Officially the measure is intended to help fight criminal acts by terrorists and extremists. Proponents of the new powers have said the law should prevent later criminal acts targeted "against the country's security."
Critics, however, have said the new law could be used to intimidate government opponents and suppress protests - recalling Soviet-era authoritarian rule.
"The powers of the Federal Security Service have long ago exceeded all sensible bounds," said Russia's Memorial human rights group, which called the FSB "more than a special service."
"This is the decree of a police state," said Sergey Ivanenko of the Russian Union Democratic (Yabloko) Party, which does not have any seats in parliament. Three members of the Yabloko Party were arrested outside the Duma building, where they were handing out literature cautioning that the law constituted a "danger to society."
Following in Putin's footsteps
Liberal Democratic party leader Vladimir Zhironovsky defended the bill, saying it was "not a repressive law."
"No one is going to arrest or deprive anyone of freedom. We are only talking about one thing: preventive measures," he added.
The bill was passed by the lower house, the Duma, last week with the backing of the ruling United Russia party.
The proposals have now been sent to President Dmitry Medvedev, whose signature will turn them into law. Medvedev had already thrown his support behind the bill.
The FSB's powers had greatly increased under Medvedev's predecessor, current prime minister and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin. Human rights activists had hoped in vain that Medvedev would curb the role of Russia's special services.
Author: Darren Mara, David Levitz (AFP/dpa)
Editor: Susan Houlton
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