MOSCOW, February 4 (RIA Novosti) – Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law Tuesday imposing tougher penalties for extremism-related crimes.
The move comes on the eve of this month's Winter Olympics in Sochi, where existing concerns over security were heightened following two suicide bombings that killed 34 people in the city of Volgograd in December.
Changes to the laws on extremism double the minimum prison term for inciting hatred to four years and triple the minimum fine to 300,000 rubles ($8,700). The law also increases penalties for membership in banned extremist groups.
The maximum prison term for setting up an extremist organization has been doubled to six years, and the fine has been raised to 500,000 rubles ($14,100).
The legislation, submitted to parliament last summer, has been roundly criticized by human rights activists who argue that the vagueness of the law opens the door for abuse against members of the political opposition.
Authorities insist the law is intended to combat religious extremist groups that threaten public safety.
Anti-extremism laws have in recent years been used to prosecute political and social activists in Russia, as well as followers of certain religions.