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Russia anti-terror law tightens control on media

Written by: Staff
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MOSCOW, July 5 (Reuters) Russia's pro-Kremlin parliament today gave preliminary approval to a law establishing tight control over how the media reports on terrorist attacks, a measure one free speech advocate called ''repressive''.

President Vladimir Putin hosts the leaders of the Group of Eight big democracies at a summit later this month, putting the Kremlin's record on democratic freedoms and human rights under intense scrutiny.

Under the bill, which lawmakers passed on the second of three readings, law enforcement officials would have the power to dictate to journalists how they gather information during an anti-terrorist operation.

Reporters who fail to follow officials' instructions would be fined.

''These lawmakers have only one idea: that is to think up as many repressive amendments to the law as possible,'' said Oleg Panfilov, head of the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations, a lobby group.

The measure would cover incidents like the Beslan school siege in September 2004 when 331 people -- half of them children -- were killed.

Media reports about a chaotic rescue operation embarrassed the Kremlin. One journalist said authorities had her poisoned to stop her reporting on the siege.

The Kremlin says Russia is a front in the global fight against terrorism. It says it, like Western countries, needs tough measures to protect its citizens.

The draft law was part of a package of anti-terrorism measures approved on second reading by the State Duma, or lower house of parliament.

The package included a law allowing the courts to confiscate convicted criminals' property -- reviving a Soviet-era practice that had been scrapped on human rights grounds.

Democracy watchdog the Council of Europe has recommended that countries allow confiscation for certain crimes linked to terrorism.

But the State Duma also made crimes like breaching copyright, taking bribes and robbery subject to confiscation.

Critics say reviving confiscation is a further sign that human rights won when the Soviet Union collapsed are being eroded under Putin, a former KGB spy.

Supporters of the measure say it will only be applied where a court rules the property was acquired illegally.

REUTERS SHB BD2343

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