Russia’s upper house passes treason bill

Russia’s upper house of parliament has approved a controversial new draft law on treason that would make it a crime to give harmful information to foreign-based nongovernmental organizations.

The Federation Council passed the measure Wednesday. That move clears the way for President Vladimir Putin to sign it into law, as he is expected to do.

Current law describes high treason as espionage or other assistance to a foreign state damaging Russia’s external security. The new bill expands it to include moves it describes as being against Russia’s “constitutional order, sovereignty and territorial and state integrity.” The new legislation also applies to international organizations as well as foreign states.

Last week, rights group Human Rights Watch and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressed concern about possible misuse of the proposed law.

Moscow says the new law is meant to strengthen security.

The treason bill passed Russia’s lower house of parliament by an overwhelming margin last week.

This follows the swift passage of a series of other Russian laws this year restricting civic freedoms and foreign influence. These include laws that criminalize slander, blacklist websites containing what officials consider objectionable material, tighten restrictions on nongovernmental groups with foreign funding, and curb public protests.

Supporters say the measures are meant to protect young people from child pornography and information about suicide and drug use, and to keep the public safe.

Critics say the new legislation is designed to suppress information and stifle dissent.