Russia’s Constitutional Court on Thursday made a decision on the new rules of holding rallies, which were challenged by the Duma opposition and leader of the unregistered party Other Russia Eduard Limonov. The Constitutional Court instructed to lower the minimum amount of fines, prohibited to punish the organisers without concrete guilt, recognised compulsory community service for offenders a means to suppress “dissent,” as well as ruled to dramatically increase the number of the so-called “hyde parks” (speakers’ corners). A number of Constitutional Court judges believe that it was necessary to repeal the whole law.
The Constitutional Court criticised almost all the challenged provisions of the Federal Law “On meetings, Rallies, Demonstrations, Marches and Pickets” and the Code of Administrative Offences, as well as confirmed that the law was passed by the State Duma lower house of parliament in violation of the rules of procedure, the Kommersant daily writes. However, the Constitutional Court has found no “reasonable grounds” for the repeal of the law as a result of the procedural violations.
Eventually the Constitutional Court decided to repeal only three fundamental innovations, the newspaper reported. It recognised unconstitutional the increase in the minimum fines for violations at rallies. The Constitutional Court has also softened responsibility of the rallies’ organisers - both for exceeding the expected number of the participants agreed upon with the authorities and for disorderly conduct during rallies. Now the organiser cannot be punished for formal violations: the court will need evidence of his direct guilt in the event of injury or damage to rally participants, but the Constitutional Court allowed to bring to responsibility officials and the police if they failed to help the organiser to avoid such consequences.
The Constitutional Court preserved the compulsory community service, stipulated by the disputed provisions, only as permissible sanctions for harm to health or property of citizens. But otherwise it is prohibited to punish protesters with compulsory community service, as it “can be seen as a means of suppressing dissent.”
According to the Kommersant daily, a number of Constitutional Court judges are going to declare their disagreement with the court’s decision. In particular, Judge Vladimir Yaroslavtsev, noting the “enormous work” of his colleagues, said that the law on rallies should have been recognised unconstitutional because of the violation of the order of its adoption, as well as it was necessary to cancel the maximum fine that “actually blocks the constitutional rights of citizens.”
The Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper gives comments by deputy head of the constitutional and municipal law department of the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) Ilya Shablinsky, who calls the Constitutional Court decision a “precarious balance” between what the authorities wanted and the society demands.
“Taking into account the Constitutional Court’s trend to support any initiatives of the authorities, this decision looks as a certain attempt to also satisfy the civil society,” said the expert.
“Knowing the political vector of the present judges of the Constitutional Court, these decisions can be called sensational,” the Novye Izvestia newspaper quotes the opinion of independent lawyer Dmitry Kachanov. “Our Constitutional Court, that had earlier not displayed particular zeal in defending the democratic rights of Russian citizens, has rather suddenly seen the light, finally noticing a number of serious violations of the constitutional order in the odious law on rallies.”