MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday he was ready to review or move more slowly on a clutch of recent laws that rights campaigners say are aimed at silencing his critics.
Since Putin’s re-election in March, preceded by the largest protests in his 12 years in power, parliament has rushed through laws tightening controls on the Internet, increasing the penalties for defamation and expanding the definition of high treason, among others.
Rights activists and political opponents say Putin has orchestrated the clampdown, and the West has also expressed concern that civil liberties are being rolled back.
“Everything that is taking place here is done for a sole purpose - that of our country being stable. Effective and stable,” Putin told a meeting of the Civil Society and Human Rights Council, his own advisory body.
“It cannot be more stable if it is only based on the power of law enforcement and repressive agencies. It will be more stable if society is more collective, effective, responsible, if a bond is established between society, the citizen and the state,” he added, according to RIA news agency.
Putin was heading the first meeting of the council since 39 new members were elected in an online vote to replace prominent rights campaigners who resigned after his re-election in March.
He told the meeting he was ready to reconsider the law on high treason, which rights campaigners say could mean that any Russian citizen who had contacts with a foreigner could be accused of trying to undermine the state.
Putin also offered to rephrase wording in another bill that envisages stiffer punishments for defamation, and said parliament should not rush to adopt a law that would introduce jail sentences for offending religious feelings.
He also said he would “look again” at legislation signed in July that requires foreign-funded non-governmental organizations to register as “foreign agents”, saying its main aim was to prevent foreign meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs.
Council members said it was not clear what kind of concessions, if any, Putin might ultimately make.
“What was that? The way I see it, an attempt to get some sort of feedback on all the laws that have irritated society,” said Irina Khakamada, a member of the Council. “Let’s see what the result will be. I don’t know.”
Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Kevin Liffey