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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State of Emergency Bill Allows Arbitrary Arrests

The State Duma has passed in second reading a long-awaited bill defining the legal status of a state of emergency.

Although human rights advocates hailed the bill, passed Wednesday, as a far more liberal version of a draft submitted by former President Boris Yeltsin in 1995, they expressed alarm about an amendment allowing arbitrary arrests in any region covered by a state of emergency.

The otherwise "very acceptable" bill stipulates that anyone suspected of "terrorist activities" may be detained for up to three months during a state of emergency, according to Lev Levinson, an expert with the Moscow-based Institute for Human Rights and an aide to prominent human rights activist and Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalyov.

The amendment's author, Unity Deputy Vladislav Reznik, said by phone Thursday that he drafted it after investigators in Chechnya complained they are "unable to collect evidence against suspected terrorists" in the 48-hour period allowed for opening a criminal case in the Constitution.

The bill also allows the president to introduce a state of emergency "in circumstances posing a direct threat to the lives and security of citizens or the constitutional order, provided this danger cannot be handled without emergency measures," Levinson read over the telephone Thursday.

These circumstances could include armed insurgencies, mass uprisings, terrorist acts, religious or ethnic conflicts and natural or man-made disasters.

An emergency can be declared only by presidential decree, which must be endorsed by the Federation Council, and can last up to 60 days in specific regions or up to 30 days nationwide. The bill stipulates that both houses of parliament must remain in session throughout the state of emergency.

If the president wants the emergency prolonged, he must again seek the Federation Council's approval.

Under the bill, in an emergency, the president would have the right to limit movement and suspend the activities of executive government or political parties if they "hinder the elimination of circumstances that necessitated the introduction of the state of emergency." He would also be able to commandeer vehicles and use industrial or other resources regardless of who owns them.

But the president's emergency decrees would not automatically become laws — as foreseen by the Yeltsin draft.