MOSCOW (AFP) - Russian lawmakers on Friday gave initial approval to a Bill forbidding "rehabilitation of Nazism" that will punish historians denying Nazi crimes during World War II but could also be used against the opposition.
The Bill introduces a new criminal charge for "denying facts" established by the Nuremberg tribunal regarding the crimes of the Axis powers, as well as "disseminating false information about Soviet actions" during the war.
Punishment for such violations would range from a fine of 300,000 rubles (S$10,705) up to prison terms of five years. The harshest punishments would be reserved for those who disseminate such views in the media or using public office, according to the text of the Bill which went through a first reading on Friday.
Conservative pro-Kremlin MP Irina Yarovaya called rehabilitation of Nazism "not only a gunshot into the past and a crime against millions of victims of fascism, it is the execution of the future", because it could lead to the repetition of similar crimes.
Critics saw political motives behind the Bill and said it could be used to enforce a single, Kremlin-approved interpretation of history.
"It's directed against liberals and democrats that compare our regime with the regime of Hitler," said political analyst Alexei Makarkin.
A few Russian publications have recently run articles drawing parallels between Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula with Adolf Hitler's moves to annex German-speaking regions.
Respected professor Andrei Zubov was fired from his university, the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, in late March for comparing Russia's actions in Crimea to the Nazi's Anschluss with Austria in 1938 in a newspaper opinion piece.
President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly emphasised the legacy of World War II - an important collective memory for the country that lost an estimated 30 million people in the war - with increasingly large sums spent on the annual Victory Day parade on May 9.