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Moscow Times
July 5, 2007
Extremism Bill Clears Key Hurdle

The State Duma on Wednesday passed in a crucial second reading a controversial bill that toughens punishments for extremism.

Supporters of the bill say it is aimed at nationalists and skinheads, while political opposition groups fear it could be used to target them ahead of upcoming Duma and presidential elections.

"More and more often, nationalism is taking on the most extreme forms, and it has to be stopped decisively," said Oleg Morozov, a senior deputy with United Russia, which supported the bill, the Rosbalt news agency reported.

Morozov cited the murders of a Senegalese student and a 9-year-old Tajik girl in St. Petersburg, as well as a knife rampage in a Moscow synagogue last year, as evidence of the bill's necessity. After the bill passed in its first reading in May, it came under fire from opposition activists who said their activities could fall under its definition of extremism. It was also criticized by law enforcement officials for being too vague.

Much of the bill was rewritten for Wednesday's second reading. Some provisions that activists found contentious have been removed or modified, but others remain. For instance, the bill still introduces fines for printers and publishers who distribute literature deemed extremist. The maximum fine is set at 100,000 rubles, or about $4,000.

The publishing industry could also be affected by a new provision that was added to the bill before its second reading. The provision says that if media outlets refer to groups that have been banned for extremism, the outlets must mention the fact that those groups have been banned. The provision appears similar to an initiative last year to prevent media outlets from referring to the unregistered National Bolshevik Party.

Other changes to the bill could be more favorable to opposition activists determined to carry out street protests.

For instance, the original bill increased the maximum jail sentences for crimes like hooliganism and creating public disturbances if they were committed out of extremist motives, but those tougher punishments were scrapped for the second reading. The bill must still pass in a third reading in the Duma.