Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday signed [press release, in Russian] amendments to the Russian Criminal Code which redefine treason and espionage, despite assurances he would reconsider the changes to ensure they did not make the definition overly broad. The amendments [SOVA backgrounder], called "On Amendments to the Criminal Code and Article 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation" [legislative materials, in Russian] were approved [JURIST report] by Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council [official website, in Russian] in October and make substantial changes to how treason is defined criminally. The new language of the law defines treason as "the provision of financial, material, technical, consulting or other assistance to a foreign state, international or foreign organization or their representatives in activities directed against the security of the Russian Federation, including its constitutional order, sovereignty, territorial and state integrity" which some fear could be interpreted to include giving even cursory assistance to any foreign national. Many feel this move by Putin is a thinly-veiled attempt to silence dissenting figures within Russia.
The Russian government has been cracking down on dissent in recent months. Members of Russian feminist rock band Pussy Riot [RASPI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] were given two-year prison sentences after they were convicted [JURIST report] in August of hooliganism in connection with "guerrilla performance" of a protest song in February at the altar of downtown Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. Since the beginning of the trial [JURIST report], the group's lawyers and human rights groups have said the charges were politically motivated by Putin to discredit his opposition. In July Putin signed a bill into the law that re-criminalizes slander and libel in the country after signing into law [JURIST reports] a bill that labels all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive foreign funding as "foreign agents" and requires them to register with the Justice Ministry just a week earlier.