Freedom House Condemns New Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly in Moscow

Freedom House condemns new, severe restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression passed on December 26 by the Moscow City Council. The new legislation broadly bans vigils by individuals — so-called “single-person pickets” — if they are “united by a common organizer and goal.” The legislation also bans using vehicles in a demonstration, including driving within the city center while displaying political or protest symbols.

These restrictions, which apply only to Moscow, explicitly target protest tactics which have become popular as authorities have restricted or removed opportunities for public criticism of the government or its policies. Single-person pickets have been adopted to evade restrictions on large-scale rallies, while “motor rallies” of cars decorated with white ribbons have demonstrated citizens’ outrage at election violations and other issues in the past year.

Freedom House is particularly concerned that such restrictions are vulnerable to arbitrary implementation. In recent days, single-person pickets have been used by activists to protest the passage of a law prohibiting adoptions of Russian orphans by US citizens, and a ban on so-called “homosexual propaganda.” Picketers participating in both demonstrations were detained and fined. Some opposition figures have claimed that only opponents of the adoption law were detained, while those supporting it were left alone, highlighting concerns about the selective application of anti-protest legislation.

Those violating the new restrictions could face fines of up to 600,000 rubles (approximately $20,000) under regulations newly toughened this summer.

As a party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Helsinki Accords, and the European Convention of Human Rights, Russia must ensure its citizens have the right to peacefully assemble and express themselves. Freedom House calls on Russian authorities, at both federal and local levels, to respect these obligations and the rights of Russian citizens to voice their opinions in the public sphere.

Learn more:

Freedom in the World 2012: Russia

Nations in Transit 2012: Russia

Freedom of the Press 2012: Russia

Freedom on the Net 2012: Russia

Blog: Freedom at Issue

Open Letter: Statement of International Concern on Russia

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