Staunton, August 23 – Yesterday, the Interfax news agency reported that the Russian government has approved a draft law that would give the police sweeping new powers to ignore the inviolability of Russians in their residences and cars, allow officers to use firearms if they feel threatened, and be absolved in advance of any responsibility.
The news agency says that it has a copy of the draft law but stresses that the measure has not yet been submitted to the Duma for approval (nterfax.ru/russia/705418). But the existence of the draft has already provoked questions as to why the authorities are taking these steps now and what they portend for the future.
While most experts are refraining from comments until they see the draft law itself because in such measures the devil is in the details, some are already alarmed and say that the measure appears set to open the way to more police abuses at a time when anti-government demonstrations seem set to increase.
In an article provocatively entitled “Are the Authorities So Frightened that They are Setting the Police on Russians in Advance,” Sofiya Sachivko of Svobodnaya pressa speaks with three experts who are concerned that the new measure will send a signal to the police that they can do almost anything they want (svpressa.ru/society/article/263491/).
Aleksandr Brod, a member of the Presidential Council of Human Rights, says that he and his colleagues have “serious concerns” about the measure because “there are serious risks” that these modifications of existing law will “give rise to serious misuse” of police power. Giving the police immunity for their actions, he says, is “very dangerous.”
If the draft law is adopted, he continues, police will be allowed to exercise their own judgment about when to violate the rights of Russians and use lethal force against them confident that they will not be held accountable by anyone if they can argue that what they were doing was intended to further the interests of those who order them into action.
Brod says that he thinks that those behind this measure are pushing it because they consider that protest attitudes and actions are likely to increase. “Recently, we saw the protest in Vladikavkaz. Now, under conditions of the pandemic, there are serious problems” and people are likely to protest. The police are being given new powers to oppose them.
Moscow lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky says that the situation is complicated but that “now and in all directions is taking place a total attack on civil rights.” To fight the pandemic, some restrictions may be justified. But the actions of the police and the authorities more generally have been both chaotic and not restricted to that challenge. And those things are worrisome.
“Now, the authorities are seeking to introduce measures which are not connected with the crisis and the epidemic in any way,” he continues. “The police and other services have more than enough authority to carry out their professional responsibilities. I do not see any need to broaden them.” After all, “we do not have a war.” We don’t even have martial law.
And Leonid Olshansky, a lawyer who serves as vice president of the Automobile Drivers Movement, says that while some changes in the rules may be necessary, there is “a great risk” that the changes reported by Izvestiya will lead to abuses. He adds that that he thinks the police are only seeking now under cover of the pandemic what they have long wanted.