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Russian bill to grant ex-presidents lifetime immunity passes first reading

Russia's President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has approved the first reading of a draft bill that would grant sweeping lifetime immunity to former presidents.

The legislation is part of a package of constitutional amendments approved in a referendum this summer that could potentially see President Vladimir Putin stay in power until 2036.

The draft stipulates that any former head of state and their families obtain lifetime immunity from criminal or administrative charges. They also cannot be detained, arrested, searched, or interrogated.

The only exception is for treason, which must first be approved by the State Duma and the Supreme and Constitutional courts.

Under the current law, former presidents are only immune from prosecution for crimes committed while in office.

The State Duma also passed a first reading of another bill that will grant ex-presidents a lifetime seat in the upper house of parliament, or the Federation Council, a position that also provides immunity from prosecution.

Once the bills go through three readings in the State Duma, the legislation must be approved by the Federation Council before heading to Putin’s desk for his signature.

Dmitry Medvedev, who was president from 2008 to 2012, is Russia’s only living former president.

The immunity amendments are widely viewed as designed to protect Putin when, or if, he steps down.