MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's President Vladimir Putin has signaled his readiness to review new bills seen by critics as part of the Kremlin's crackdown on dissent.
Putin promised at a meeting with the presidential rights council late Monday to have another look at a treason bill, which was passed by the Kremlin-controlled lower house last month. Critics said the bill is worded so vaguely that it would allow the government to brand any dissenter a traitor.
Current law describes high treason as espionage or other assistance to a foreign state damaging Russia's external security. The new bill expands it to include moves against Russia's "constitutional order, sovereignty and territorial and state integrity."
The bill, drafted by the Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor agency, also changes the interpretation of treason to include activities such as financial or consultative assistance to a foreign state or an international organization.
Putin agreed Monday that it's necessary to exclude a possibility of loose interpretation.
"Let's review it and think it over," Putin said. "I agree that there must be no room for a broad interpretation of treason. It must not refer to issues that have no relation to treason."
He also said there is no need to rush a much-criticized draft bill that makes it a criminal offence to insult religious feelings.
Putin's statements appeared to signal a softening of a tough line against dissent he has taken since inauguration for a third term in May.
A series of massive opposition protest following contested elections in Russia last year have posed the most serious challenge to Putin's rule.
Parliament has responded by passing a raft of laws aiming to curb dissent, and authorities have also arrested a number of opposition leaders and other activists, in an attempt to derail further protest.