Hiding second citizenship becomes criminal offence in Russia

Source: PhotoXpress

Source: PhotoXpress

A new law demands that people with passports of two or more countries inform the migration service on their own. The government believes that a second citizenship could be a threat to patriotism.

The law regarding dual citizenship, which entered into force on August 4, was the result of President Vladimir Putin's discussion with members of the Federation Council in March 2014. The President of the Constitutional Committee of the Federation Council Andrei Klishas had an idea: make Russians inform the authorities about their second citizenship and punish them in case they hide it. The president approved the idea, but asked not to overdo it.  “We must know and we have the legitimate right to know who lives in Russia and what he or she does,” Putin said.

Klishas already had a bill, but the matter was suddenly picked up by Deputy Andrei Lugovoi, who outside Russia is known as a suspect in the polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. Klishas had been talking about administrative liability, whereas Lugovoi demanded that the responsibility be criminal, and in the end won. Subsequently, Russians are required to inform the authorities about their second citizenship within two months of obtaining it. If the deadline is not respected a fine of 500 to 1,000 roubles will be imposed. And if Russians intentionally hide the second citizenship, they may have to pay a fine of 200,000 roubles or be obliged to perform 400 hours of compulsory social service. Moreover, Russians also have to inform the authorities about their children's second citizenship.

Russia's constitution permits Russian citizens to have dual citizenship. However, the owner of two passports is juristically considered only a Russian citizen, and cannot receive any consular access from their second country in case of criminal proceedings.  

Lugovoi, who is Vice President of the Duma Security Committee, justified the new egislation by saying that it was required for supporting patriotism. “Having dual citizenship diminishes the importance of Russian citizenship,” Lugovoi remarked. “In this case the Russian citizen is connected to another government and is forced to carry out his constitutional obligations with that other government.” He remembered Russia's “foreign enemies” and stated that Russia is “in an aggressive world, therefore the government must know about dual citizenship.” Klishas then reminded everyone that in some countries, such as the U.S. and Latvia, a person possessing their citizenship swears allegiance to those countries.

While the bill was being discussed, deputies from various parties suggested that by passing this law, the government wishes to find those officials who had secretly obtained second citizenship, which would be illegal.

How to inform about dual citizenship

The holders of foreign passports themselves do not know how to respond to the law's requirements. “I've been calling the Federal Migration Service for two days and no one answers,” says Natalya Savelova. She lives in Germany, but now intends to come to Russia, where her parents live. “It wasn't written anywhere how to inform the authorities. Moreover, I don't think it says that the law affects those Russians permanently living abroad. I permanently live in Germany but sometimes come to Russia for a few months. Should I inform them or not? Why does Russia have to know about it, if I spend most of the time in Germany anyway?”  

Discussions were held on the many Internet forums. Many are convinced that any knowledgeable lawyer will prove the meaninglessness of this law in court, since Russians inform government officials of their second citizenship when, for example, they apply for their Russian international passport.

Head of the Presidential Human Rights Council Mikhail Fedotov stated that despite the possession of a second citizenship, a Russian is still a citizen of Russia. “In case of an absence of an agreement between Russia and the other country, we do not recognize this country's citizenship,” says Fedotov. “That is why it is absurd to require the communication of a citizenship that we do not recognize.”

President of the Civic Assistance Committee Svetlana Gannushkina noted that with this law the government has only labelled people with dual citizenship as spies and suspicious personas. “These people would prefer to hide the possession of the second citizenship in order to avoid contact with the officials,” says Gannushkina.

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