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Critics Call Putin Treason Bill Means to Quash Opposition

Human rights organizations have criticized a new bill that would abolish jury trials for people suspected of treason, hostage-taking, organizing mass disturbances and several other serious crimes.

Russian police arrest demonstrators in Moscow

This past weekend saw several protests in both Moscow and St. Petersburg

Human rights activists in Russia have denounced a new treason bill that was submitted to parliament by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's Cabinet, claiming that the new law would allow the Russian government to persecute critics.

The draft extends the definition of treason from breaching Russia's external security to damage to the nation's constitutional order, sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to the Associated Press.

The proposed law would have far-reaching, negative repercussions, according to a statement released Wednesday by a group of human rights activists, including the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Yury Ryzhov, an academic with the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Svetlana Gannushkina, the head of the Civic Assistance rights group.

"It returns Russian justice to the times of 1920-1950s, when independent evaluation of the situation in the country... to say nothing of the criticism of the regime and unsanctioned communication with foreigners, was interpreted as treason to the motherland," the statement said.

Opposition movement

Ilya Yashin speaking in an office at Deutsche Welle in Bonn

Ilya Yashin is one of the founding members of Solidarity

The bill was submitted last Friday, just a day before a new opposition movement, Solidarity, was founded in Moscow. Among those in charge of the rally in the Russian capital was Ilya Yashin, a 28-year-old opposition politician and the head of the youth wing of the liberal Yabloko party.

Founding Solidarity was important because Russians have to know what is occurring in their country, Yashin told Deutsche Welle, adding that in Russia there is an information vacuum and news broadcast on the Putin-controlled television have nothing to do with reality.

Bringing down the regime

Yashin said it was important to form a large, connected opposition in order to change the current power structure.

"We will never be able to bring down this mechanism of power from the inside," he said. "This power is so complete that it consumes everything. It has wrecked parliament, it has robbed us of our elections, it has destroyed independent television and the justice system. The former KGB people who rule this nation are deaf and blind to criticism from the inside."

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Critics say Putin has too much power

Yashin called the new move Putin's Cabinet is another in a long line of battles he will have to help fight. He said he understands that success for Solidarity means that his life will be in greater danger, but added that democracy is worth it.

"Freedom isn't going to be served up on a plate," he said. "We have to fight for our freedom and democracy. And when we have clawed our way back we will honor and defend our freedom."

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