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Russia tightens penalties against extremism

Jan. 22, 2014 at 12:35 PM

MOSCOW, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- People convicted of organizing extremist groups in Russia may be imprisoned for as long as four years, a law passed Wednesday by the State Duma says.

Russia's State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, passed a measure increasing the prison term for those convicted of extremism in Russia by one year to four years in prison, state news agency RIA Novosti reports.

The bill was introduced in June and was criticized by members of the human rights community as a political tool used to quiet Kremlin opponents, the report said.

Members of the European Parliament summoned representatives from Human Rights Watch and other advocates to testify Wednesday about the human rights situation in Russia. European leaders said they're concerned about policies restricting the activity of non-governmental organizations in Russia and policies against homosexuals.

A so-called foreign agents law enacted last year requires NGOs to register as foreign agents if they receive funding from abroad.

Human Rights Watch was critical of Russian policies in a series of reports published Tuesday on the international human rights situation.

Tatiana Lokshina, director for Human Rights Watch offices in Moscow, was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying the Kremlin was treating its critics as enemies of the state.

"We believe that the Kremlin is trying to shift the direction of public discontent away from itself and onto someone else," she said.

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