Ivan Pavlov: Ripping Up the Russian Constitution

Vladimir_Putin_with_Boris_Yeltsin-Russian-Constitution
“Before leaving the Kremlin, the first Russian president handed over a copy of the Russian constitution, used to swear in the head of state, and the Presidential Emblem to Mr Putin as a symbolic gesture.” “Boris Yeltsin handed over power to Acting President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin,” December 31, 1999, kremlin.ru

Article 6

1. The citizenship of the Russian Federation shall be acquired and terminated according to federal law; it shall be one and equal, irrespective of the grounds of acquisition.

2. Every citizen of the Russian Federation shall enjoy in its territory all the rights and freedoms and bear equal duties provided for by the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

3. A citizen of the Russian Federation may not be deprived of his or her citizenship or of the right to change it.
—The Constitution of the Russian Federation, “Chapter 1: The Fundamentals of the Constitutional System”

_________

The Constitution Does Not Count: How the Duma Has Planned to Strip Russians of Citizenship
Ivan Pavlov
RBC
June 22, 2016

Anti-terrorism legislation is a legal grey zone in any country. The balance between protecting public security and preserving civil rights is elusive and unsteady. However, Russian MPs, already inclined to shoot from the hip, have surpassed themselves this time by having a go at no less than the foundations of the Russian Federation’s constitutional system.

One of the measures included in the packet of “anti-terrorist” amendments tabled by a group of MPs led by Irina Yarovaya (which should be adopted in its second reading on June 24) would strip Russians of their citizenship. This punishment would be meted out for terrorist and extremist crimes, joining the civil service in other countries, and working with international organizations in which Russia is not involved.

This list, I am sure, will expand as a matter of political necessity.

Previously, a person could waive his or her citizenship only on their own behest by making a written statement. Now the actions listed above have been made equivalent to this personal initiative. The relevant amendments, if adopted, would be incorporated into the law “On Citizenship.”

Depriving a person of his or her citizenship is banned by Chapter 1, Article 6 of the Russian Constitution. Chapter 1 is entitled “The Fundamentals of the Constitutional System,” meaning the ban is among our country’s most basic laws. A Constitutional Convention would have to be called to amend them. Trying to push through a initiative like this via ordinary legislative procedure looks surprisingly brazen even amid the Sixth Duma’s other legislative feats.

The wording of the bill merits special attention.

“Citizenship of the Russian Federation is terminated on the basis […] of the person’s freely declared intent, as expressed in the commission of acts stipulated by this Federal Law.”

The rationale of legislators is extremely farfetched in this case. The point is not to comply with the Basic Law but to come up with a way of bypassing the mandatory prohibition established by the Constitution.

To get a sense of how crooked this end-around would be, imagine similar wording for bypassing the moratorium on the death penalty: “The person’s voluntary departure from life on the basis of his freely declared intent, as expressed in the commission of certain acts.” This is a case when Lenin’s adage (“technically correct, but basically mockery”) applies.

Against this backdrop, the possibilities for interpreting the proposed rule broadly do not appear so dramatic, but they do exist, and they are dangerous.

“Renunciation of Russian Federation citizenship, as expressed in the commission of acts, is not allowed if the Russian Federation citizen has no other citizenship and no guarantees of obtaining it.”

What would be meant by these guarantees in practice? Anything whatsoever: relatives or even just contacts abroad, employment in foreign organizations, etc. We end up with yet another legal cudgel against “foreign agents” and the “fifth column.”

“Work in international organizations (associations) in whose activities the Russian Federation is not involved, without the consent of the authorities, unless otherwise stipulated by an international treaty of the Russian Federation”: this language provides unprecedented scope for stripping undesirables of Russian citizenship.

It is not just a matter of NGOs, although employees of Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and similar organizations risk being the first to be run over by this steamroller. Any commercial company can be construed as an international organization: all that matters is that its operations extend to several countries.

The new legislative initiative is another step toward isolating Russia from the rest of the world.

Ivan Pavlov is an attorney at law and director of Team 29. Translated by the Russian Reader

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