Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Moscow Now Bringing Treason Charges So Often That It is ‘Almost Impossible’ for Any Russian to Avoid Them, ‘Holod’ Study Concludes

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 8 – Moscow is now lodging treason charges at a rate that means there will be more such cases this year than in the past 20 and more than in most Soviet years, Holod media reports. Moreover, it says, the broad use of this charge means that it is “almost impossible” for anyone to avoid being charged with treason if the powers want to do so.

            The news agency says that “the only way” Russians can possibly avoid such charges is to “avoid any communication with foreigners, not to read or watch news other than on state media, not to be interested in anything or ask friends about anything, not to post anything on social media, and not to travel abroad (holod.media/2023/08/07/po-predatelyu-v-den/).

            The agency’s investigation reports that the Russian authorities brought 82 charges of treason in the first seven months of 2023, far more than the 20 brought over the entire course of 2022. The cases involved not just those with access to secrets but people across the country, of all age groups, and of all professions.

            Yevgeny Smirnov, a lawyer who defends people charged with treason, says that the actual number of such charges is likely far higher. Many cases aren’t reported in the media or by official records and so no one can say for sure just how many people are now being charged with treason. He says the actual number is likely 1.5 to 2 times that Holod reports.

            In contrast to earlier use of treason charges, most of the cases Moscow is bringing now involve suggestions that those charged are somehow linked to Ukraine. (In the past, they were accused of being linked to Georgia, the US or China -- memohrc.org/ru/monitorings/komanda-29-vypustila-doklad-istoriya-gosizmeny-shpionazha-i-gosudarstvennoy-tayny-v.)

            Perhaps more unexpectedly, charges of treason are increasingly being brought not just in Moscow but across the country. So far this year, 51 of the treason charges have been brought in 28 regions beyond the capital ring road. In each case, the FSB supervises the cases from the center, but local prosecutors apparently are being encouraged to use this law against people.

            Moreover, the pace of prosecuting people for treason is speeding up. Until recently, Smirnov says, it took about two years to handle such a case; but now, the amount of time has been reduced to a few months. That suggests that the pace of accusations and imprisonments for treason will only increase.

            He and others believe that the use of broadly drawn treason laws by the authorities is intended to keep Russians off guard and make them more passive. After all, if almost anything can be used to bring a charge of treason, every Russian is now at risk and increasingly knows that that is the case. 

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