Sochi: Russia to Toughen Anti-Terror Laws Ahead of Olympics
UPDATED: The Russian parliament is expected to pass laws introducing stiffer sentences for terrorist crimes, tighter controls on financial transfers and new powers of search and seizure.
MOSCOW – Russian lawmakers are planning to rush through tough new anti-terror laws ahead of the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics next month. International media have been raising the issue of security concerns at the Games -- which Russian President Vladimir Putin views as an important showcase for the country -- since twin suicide bombings in the nearby city of Volgograd left 34 people dead in December.
A cross-party group of legislators in the Duma -- Russia's parliament -- were due to submit three draft bills on Wednesday introducing harsher punishments for those who carry out terrorist attacks.
Irina Yarovaya, a member of ruling party and chair of the Duma's security and anti-corruption committee, says the new laws would introduce sentences of 20 years or longer for "organizing and committing terrorist crimes and for organizing financial terrorism."
There would also be tougher sentences for crimes designed to provide propaganda or to justify and support terrorism. Money laundering -- which is seen as a common source of terrorist funds -- would also be targeted, through tighter restrictions on electronic money transfers.
Parliament, which is dominated by Kremlin-loyal United Russia party lawmakers, is expected to prioritize the new bills, seen as a response to the recent suicide bombings.
The laws would also increase the powers of the FSB security services, giving authorities the power to search and inspect vehicles and documents.
A tight security cordon has been set up around Sochi, the Black Sea resort city that is hosting the Olympics, which open on Feb. 6. Roads are blocked to only allow in drivers with special permits, while drones are patrolling the skies above.
Sochi is situated close to the North Caucasus, where Islamic insurgents are fighting Russian forces. The Kremlin has ordered the highest national security alert for the duration of the games.
NBC's Meredith Vieira, who will be covering the Sochi Olympics for the network with Matt Lauer, discussed her concerns about security during the Games with THR on Tuesday.
"I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t [concerned about security]," said Vieira. "I really believe the Russian government is going to do everything it can to avoid that situation. This is [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s baby and they don’t want anything to go wrong. But that doesn’t mean things won’t happen elsewhere in the country because I think those terrorists are given an opportunity and they will take it."
"I'm basically assured that it will be fine," she added. "But it may not be. I know that. But I feel good enough about it that I’m going to be there, for sure."
The moves in parliament come the same day the Moscow office of New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report saying that Russian authorities had "intensified blatant harassment and intimidation of environmental and civic activists" ahead of the games.
The report identifies numerous recent cases where people protesting ecological damage attributed to Olympic construction projects were told to report to police for questioning. In other cases, activists have reported being repeatedly telephoned by FSB security officers.
HRW criticized the International Olympics Committee for its silence over the matter
"The IOC has done a huge disservice to Russian activists by not challenging the Russian authorities' efforts to silence activists," said Jane Buchanan, HRW's Europe and Central Asia associate director.
"The Olympic Charter clearly calls for the Olympic movement to promote human dignity, but the games in Sochi are instead taking place in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation."