Staunton, September 2 – On July 30, Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing the FSB to declare any information about itself “a professional secret” and seek punishment for those who publish it in the media. Since then the General Procuracy and the Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church have done the same, lawyer Elena Lukyanova says.
In all three cases, she points out, the institution is the sole judge of what is “a professional secret” and thus has the ability under the Russian system to prevent publication not only of what might be legitimately secret under Russian law but also of anything that these institutions don’t want made public (vtimes.io/news/fsb-mozhet-zasekretit-vse).
These moves effectively gut the provisions of Paragraph 29 of the Russian Constitution which specifies that all Russian citizens are free to seek and disseminate any information from any source which has not been declared a state secret under the terms of specific legislation
by any legal means which has not been declared a state secret.
Under the new arrangements, anything the FSB director (or the Procurator General or Patriarch) doesn’t want published for any reason will be treated as a state secret even if it does not meet the standards set by Russian laws on classification, thus allowing the powers the ability to go after anyone who reports anything they don’t want to be publicly known.
The situation with regard to the FSB is the most serious, the lawyer says. Yevgeny Savostyanov, former deputy director of the special services, says the new arrangement effectively “bans any publications about the FSB without its advance agreement” not only by officers but by anyone.
On the one hand, Lukyanova says, this restores at the institutional level many of the restrictions that the Soviet censorship imposed. And on the other, and more seriously, it allows the FSB to cover up information about its own crimes and now have them exposed by anyone, including the courts.
In addition, and this may prove especially worrisome, other institutions including the prosecutors and the Church are following the FSB’s lead, creating a situation in which they will restrict ever more information behind the threat of bringing criminal charges, thus further limiting the ability of Russians to know what is going on and even being done to them.