Putin signs protest bill amid outcry

2012-06-08 22:10
Saint Petersburg - Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Friday said he had signed a controversial bill that sharply raises fines for opposition protesters despite pleas from rights activists to veto the law.

The announcement comes days before Russia's beleaguered opposition plans to stage a mass rally protesting Putin's comeback to the Kremlin for a historic third term, and deals a blow to their efforts to keep their nascent movement alive after unprecedented rallies last winter.

"I not only signed the law, I looked at the materials the Duma sent over," Putin said, referring to the lower house of parliament, and adding that the law was in line with European legislation.

The bill, sponsored by ruling party United Russia, will hike the maximum penalty for organisers of illegal protests to $32 100, while participants could be fined up to $9 000.

Restrictions

Activists and human rights campaigners have condemned what they call draconian restrictions aimed at quashing dissent in Russia, with the head of the president's own council on human rights, Mikhail Fedotov, asking Putin to veto the bill.

"This is a mistake," former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said, referring to Putin's decision to sign off on the bill.
"From now on, there is no freedom of assembly in Russia," prominent commentator Yulia Latynina wrote in opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta before the announcement of the signing was made.

The office of Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said that the bill was "hasty, contradictory, lacking a strict concept and precise criteria."

"This will only exacerbate the situation and inflame opposition moods," it said in a statement earlier this week.

European Union

The European Union on Thursday expressed "concern" about the new legislation after it was passed by the upper and lower houses of parliament.

Putin said he heard Fedotov voice the concerns of the rights community before deciding to sign off on the bill.
"I talked to the head of the presidential council on developing civil society and human rights Fedotov, he passed on to me some concerns of non-governmental organisations with regards to this law," Putin said, adding that the legislation could be amended "if need be."

In a highly unusual move, an opposition party in the State Duma had on Tuesday deliberately stalled the passing of the bill by calling for votes on hundreds of amendments. It was finally passed at the third reading by 241 to 47.

Hopes

The upper house, the Federation Council, swiftly approved the bill on Wednesday.

Activists had held out hope that Putin might scrap the bill following the public outcry.

His announcement at the 11th hour means the law will now enter into force ahead of a planned new anti-Kremlin protest on 12 June, called the March of Millions.

A representative of state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta said the text of the law would be published in Saturday's edition.

"The law will enter into force from the day of official publication," a deputy editor of Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Timofei Kuznetsov, said in comments on the popular Echo of Moscow radio.

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