(Washington, D.C.) – Amnesty International today calls on Russian authorities to respect freedom of expression and assembly following the adoption of a bill by the country's parliament that hikes fines for protesters taking part in unsanctioned rallies.
The bill, sponsored by President Vladimir Putin's United Russian party, allows authorities to fine participants of "unsanctioned public meetings" between 30,000 rubles ($900 USD) and 50,000 rubles. After passing through the Duma in just a few weeks, the legislation will become law once signed by President Putin.
"The speed with which this law has been passed suggests that it is not aimed at regulating a respected right but rather, is a short-sighted response to growing public protest," said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia director for Amnesty International.
"On the day of his inauguration, President Putin spoke out in favor of greater participation of citizens and encouraged more consultations with different sectors of society about legal reforms. This draft law, and the way it has been handled by the Russian parliament, however, shows no respect for Russian citizens' views."
Essentially, the law could punish people for organizing any large gathering, and coordinators would face hefty fines if participants cause disorder or damage, something patently out of their control at a sizable rally.
Given the vague wording of several of the amendments, the draft law is open to arbitrary and selective abuse by the authorities.
"The law on public meetings essentially blocks protests and prevents dissent," added Dalhuisen. "These amendments, if adopted, will move the law even further from enabling the right to freedom of expression and assembly as guaranteed in the Russian Constitution."
Amnesty International has derided the Duma's proposal to create special areas in cities where demonstrations can be held.
"Demonstrations are meant to take place in public spaces. To confine them to a limited area with little access to those whom they seek to address contradicts the core idea behind the right to freedom of assembly," Dalhuisen continued.
Over the past six months there have been several large and peaceful demonstrations against election fraud, where police and organizers upheld public order while allowing people to express their dissatisfaction.
Following a large demonstration on May 6 which resulted in violence, Amnesty International is concerned that Russian authorities will take a far tougher line against demonstrations.
"The authorities must enable peaceful protests and prevent freedom of assembly from becoming an empty phrase in Russia," Dalhuisen concluded.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.