Russian activists sound alarm at soaring fines for civil 'disorder'
The Russian parliament is rushing through a bill that will impose large fines for a wide range of protests. Activists say the hikes amount to financial intimidation to chill the protest movement.
As the Russian Duma rushes through a bill that will drastically raise fines for taking part in an unsanctioned political meeting, more than two dozen people were arrested outside the parliament today for protesting the hike, which activists say will raise the fines to cost-prohibitive levels, chilling most forms of public activism.Skip to next paragraph
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Among those hauled away by police was the leader of the liberal Yabloko party, Sergei Mitrokhin, who says that he and other activists were only standing on the street and handing out leaflets advertising a legally-permitted political protest due to take place later in the morning. Reached on his cellphone, Mr. Mitrokhin said authorities were trying to prevent activists from carrying out even the most basic activities that are considered normal in any democratic society.
"This is how things are going. Soon we will not be able to hold mass meetings or even any sort of street gathering," he says. "The law under preparation is the law of a dictatorship; the crackdown is already underway, not only in Moscow but around the regions of Russia as well."
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The bill that's being hurried through its final two readings by the pro-Kremlin majority will impose fines on individuals of 20,000 roubles ($660), or up to 50 hours of community labor, and registered organizations up to 300,000 roubles ($10,000) if any "disorder" takes place, even during the course of a legally-permitted rally. Fines for unsanctioned meetings, even flash mob-type protests, will go up to 200,000 roubles ($6,600). If any injuries take place in the course of public disorders, fines will grow immensely – reaching up to 1 million roubles ($33,000) for organizers.
The potentially steep fines have activists voicing the need to band together. "We need to stress our continuing commitment to peaceful methods," writes Ilya Yashin, a leading protest organizer, in the opposition weekly Novaya Gazeta. "And (in the face of the new laws) we'll have to realize the slogan 'one for all and all for one' in practice. In light of the rise in penalties, we must agree among ourselves that if one of us has to pay a huge fine, we'll all join our efforts to collect the money."
Supporters of the draft law say it corresponds with international norms and fills a legislative hole in Russia, where participants in opposition rallies have traditionally displayed astonishingly peaceful and orderly behavior, at least compared to European protests, where Molotov cocktails, shop-window trashing, car burning and pitched battles with police are often the order of the day.
But everyone was shocked when a downtown Moscow rally on the eve of Vladimir Putin's inauguration last month turned violent after a few protesters allegedly provoked police, who charged the crowd with tear gas and batons, and arrested over 600.