Putin Must Reject Outrageous Penalties for Peaceful Protest
A legislative amendment that dramatically increases fines for those who participate in “unsanctioned” public events and demonstrations, passed by both houses of the Russian parliament today, seriously threatens the right to the freedom of assembly in Russia and should be outright rejected by President Putin. Freedom House calls for all those who support a more democratic future in Russia to speak out strongly against the new measures.
The fines, along with other draconian changes to the laws governing demonstrations, protests, and rallies in Russia, were approved in quick succession by Russia’s lower and upper houses, and await President Putin’s signature. This latest measure will increase possible fines for individuals found to have participated in “unsanctioned” public events and rallies from 1,000 to 300,000 rubles (approximately $9,000), and allows large fines whether or not the demonstration actually caused any disturbance or harm. Moreover, the changes allow for heavy fines against event organizers if the number of participants in a demonstration exceeds that indicated ahead of time and prohibit organizers found to have violated the rules during past events from organizing future events.
“It is telling that the authorities’ response to the recent groundswell of public outrage over Russia’s disappointing democratic development over the past decade is to crack down further on political dissent,” said Susan Corke, director of Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “Clearly, they have failed to receive the message expressed repeatedly over the past six months in demonstrations across Russia. Russian citizens are no longer satisfied with the denial of their fundamental right to peacefully speak their minds on the street.”
If signed into law, the fines for violating the rules on public demonstrations will equal fines for serious criminal offenses like falsifying elections. The changes were rushed through, despite nearly unanimous condemnation from all sectors of civil society, and, according to reports, in part as an attempt to put a stop to an opposition demonstration planned for June 12.
“We fear that, given the Russia government’s record of falsifying administrative and criminal charges to silence rights activists, this will have a chilling effect on citizen participation in important public policy debates and Russia’s democratic processes,” continued Corke.
The amendments violate Russia’s obligations to respect fundamental human rights enshrined in Russia’s constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as its commitments as part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly ruled that, given the importance of the right to participate in public assemblies to fundamental human rights, governments must give wide latitude to participants and organizers of demonstrations to publicly assemble peacefully.
Russia is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2012 and in Freedom of the Press 2012, which ranks it 172nd out of 197 countries for media freedom.
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