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The amendments to the law on rallies worsen conditions for the Opposition to stage protest actions

May 31, 2012, 12:50 UTC+3

The fines for citizens have been reduced, but the number of offenses punished by fines has increased

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MOSCOW, May 31 (Itar-Tass World Service)

The committee for constitutional legislation under the State Duma lower house of the Russian parliament on Wednesday approved the amendments to the bill toughening punishment for abusing the rallies law. The fines for citizens have been reduced, but the number of offenses punished by fines has increased. Also, it became obvious that the United Russia Party was in a hurry to pass the bill before the large protest action on June 12.

Initially, United Russia proposed to fine ordinary rally participants up to 900,000 roubles, and organizers - up to 1.5 million roubles, the Vedomosti reminds. However, the fines for citizens were eventually cut to 300,000 roubles, and the document introduced differentiated offenses - a petty offense is punished by a 10,000- to 20,000-rouble fine. Officials will pay up to 30,000 roubles for petty offenses and up to 600,000 roubles for serious offenses, while legal entities will pay up to 100,000 roubles and up to one million roubles, respectively.

The bill also says that the organization of a public event without notifying the authorities is a breach of law, even if this public event has not caused any damage. A fine will be fixed if the rally organizers' actions/inaction inconvenienced pedestrians or traffic, if the number of persons attending the rally exceeded the declared number or if police reinforcement had to be called to the scene.

The final version of the bill contains an article aimed at stopped the "march of literaries:" a fine for participants in mass movement or presence of persons in public places amounts up to 20,000 roubles. The main novelty is that fines will be imposed on those who made calls for "simultaneous presence of many people." There is a provision that messages with such calls, with information about the venue, purpose and preparations for people's massing in a certain place will be regarded as "preliminary agitation."

If the amendments are approved, police might regard two persons with white ribbons walking along a street as participants in an unsanctioned political action, and they will have to pay a fine, said Yabloko Party leader Sergei Mitrokhin, cited by the newspaper. The country is actually imposing elements of curfew, co-founder of the Voters' League Sergei Parkhomenko said.

By the 2nd reading, United Russia had drawn a new article of the Code of Administrative Offenses /KoAP/, which envisions punishment by fines or community work for organizing mass presence of citizens in public places which is not a public event, if it disrupted the public order, the Kommersant writes. The State Duma Opposition said the new article was the authorities' response to "people's stroll." It was used by participants in the Bolotnaya Square rally on May 6, which escalated to clashes with police.

The committee recommended to turn down all the 357 amendments brought forward by the Opposition. A majority of the amendments was submitted for the sake of the so-called Italian strike. Under the house procedure, each lawmaker - during the 2nd reading of the bill -- has the right to put up for discussion and voting any amendments the dedicated committee divided into groups /approve or reject/. The Opposition intends to use it. A Just Russia lawmaker Ilya Ponomaryov believes that the 2nd reading, due on June 5, may drag out for several days. The ruling party is hoping to approve the 3rd reading of the bill on June 6 and pass it to the Federation Council on the same day. In that event, the president might sign it into law on June 7, while on June 8, the document might be published. This means the new sums of fines will already be effective on June 12 - the date of the "March of Millions."

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta is confident that the law toughening punishment for violations during rallies will certainly come into force by June 12, i.e. before the street protest actions planned by the Opposition. Although United Russia has kept its promise and scrapped the multi-million-rouble fines for citizens stated in the 1st reading of the bill, the conditions for Opposition rallies and marches have worsened dramatically. There are more pretexts now to recognize them as illegal or breaching a norm of cleverly amended legislation on public events. The most glaring amendment to the Code of Administrative Offenses is the obviously politically motivated grouping of actions at a rally into special category. It is against these actions - not for violating traffic rules and border regime, election fraud or encroachment on government bodies -- that high fines have been introduced.

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