In a move that echoes Quebec's recently enacted Law 78, the Russian parliament has just passed a law that skyrockets fines for "illegal" protests. Opponents see the law as "draconian" and believe it will only serve to further catalyze the protest movement.
While Article 31 of Russia’s Constitution allows for the right of peaceful assembly, the new law could see protesters fined over $9000. RT adds that "the new law makes it illegal for protesters to conceal their faces at rallies."
"Criticism of the authorities is becoming the main crime in our country," Gennady Gudkov, an opposition member of the lower house of parliament, told Reuters news agency. "This is a draconian law."
"That the authorities are in a hurry, that they are doing everything at lightning speed, points to their key priority ... to suppress dissent and put pressure on peaceful protests," Gudkov added.
Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch stated, “President Putin’s rush to have this new piece of legislation adopted at the start of his presidency demonstrates disregard both for freedom of assembly and Russian civil society.”
Similarly, Quebec's Law 78 threatens enormous fines for protesters and has been seen as demonstrating disregard for the freedom of assembly.
Nightly marches have grown since Law 78's passing, and Mikhail Fedotov, the chairman of the Kremlin's human rights' council, sees a similar path for Russia's law. "If this amendment governing demonstrations casts doubt on the real constitutional right of citizens to gather peacefully, without weapons, there is a real threat that it will serve only to radicalize the protests," he told Reuters.
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Despite protests from the Presidential Human Rights council, the Upper House approved a bill that would dramatically increase fines for those accused of participating in illegal rallies.
The Federation Council approved the bill with 132 votes for and just one against with one abstention.
The new law raises the maximum fine for ordinary citizens found guilty of participating in illegal street protest to 300,000 rubles (about $9,000) from the current 2,000 rubles (under $70). Meanwhile, the fine for officials will increase from the current 50,000 to 600,000 rubles ($1300 – $20,000).The bill allows individuals the option of performing up to 200 hours of compulsory community service instead of paying the penalty, which may prove exorbitant for some protesters.
Furthermore, the new law makes it illegal for protesters to conceal their faces at rallies, as well as some other adaptations to the law that aims to make the life of illegal protesters more difficult.
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Human Rights Watch: Russia: Reject Restrictions on Peaceful Assembly
According to media reports, a source in the Russian president’s office explained the rapid endorsement as reflecting the Kremlin’s desire to have the restrictive amendments in place before June 12, when opposition parties are planning to hold a mass protest rally. By rushing through the adoption of these amendments, which create serious obstacles for the right to freedom of assembly, the Russian parliament ignored both a critical evaluation of the draft law by Russia’s presidential Human Rights Council and appeals by Russian and international human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch said.
“President Putin’s rush to have this new piece of legislation adopted at the start of his presidency demonstrates disregard both for freedom of assembly and Russian civil society,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe & Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch called on Russia’s international partners, especially the European Union and the United States, to urge President Putin to prove otherwise by vetoing these legislative changes, which violate Russia’s international legal obligations.
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Zoltán Glück and Manissa McCleave Maharawal writing for Waging Nonviolence
How Students Are Painting Montreal Red
The student movement in Quebec is growing. On Tuesday, an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 students, workers and supporters took to the streets to protest tuition hikes and the passing of the new, draconian anti-protest law — Law 78 — as well as to celebrate the 100th day of the student strike. But state repression is also growing. Last night’s mass arrest and other forms of police violence bear witness to the new climate of fear and repression that the Charest government is trying to create in order to break the student movement.
The passing of Law 78 is a direct attack on the freedom of assembly and the right to protest. It not only bans unpermitted marches or any unpermitted gathering of more than 50 people, but the vaguely worded “special law” also threatens to levy enormous fines against organizers, unions and potentially anyone who participates in an unpermitted assembly. The law comes in response to the growing popularity of the student movement and can be read as as symptom of the government’s inability to control the movement; it is a sign that in some ways the students are winning. In fact, since its passage last Friday, the nightly marches have only gotten larger as more people see the struggle expanding from the single issue of university tuition to a broader one that includes the right to protest and the suppression of dissent.