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Rights Activists Slam New Russian Anti-extremism Law

MOSCOW. July 11 (Interfax) - Russian human rights activists criticized a draft law meant to combat extremism passed by the upper house of parliament on Wednesday. "I have a bad opinion of this law," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group.

"It seems to me that extremism is a notion not from jurisprudence but from political science, psychology, philosophy, and journalism. What is to be considered extremism and what isn't is a matter of personal preference," Alexeyeva, who heads Russia's oldest rights organization, told Interfax.

"We already have penalties for violent and radical acts that harm people. Current legislation prescribes them. We already have legislation that deals with all that is listed in the law on extremism that has been passed," she said.

Alexander Verkhovsky, chief of the Sova analytical center, which specializes in the study of xenophobia in Russia, said there were both strong and weak points to the draft law.

"Among obvious weak points is the possibility for prosecutors to bug the telephones of those suspected of misdemeanors. There is also a pretty absurd ban on the media mentioning persons who have been qualified by a court as extremists without reference to the court ruling. The article on hooliganism has undergone a very strange change: now a petty offense - say, 'use of swear words and spitting,' - that has been committed from motives of ethnic hatred may carry a penalty of up to five years' imprisonment," Verkhovsky told Interfax.

The proposed law would itself prescribe stricter penalties for extremism and make changes to other laws.

"A strong point in this law is that the definition of extremist activity has been cut by half, some very spurious points have been removed from it, such notions as 'humiliation of one's ethnic dignity' and 'undermining of the security of the Russian Federation', which were not defined anywhere in the law. This reduces chances for abuse," he said.