St. Petersburg police tried to prevent a group of Michael Jackson fans from commemorating the third anniversary of the “King of Pop’s” death on Monday, citing a new draconian law on public gatherings.
Jackson’s fans have been gathering by the U.S. consulate in Russia’s northern capital every year since Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009, to mark his passing by lighting candles, putting up posters, singing and moonwalking.
The consulate has been supportive of the annual flashmob, as have police, but this year law enforcement took a dimmer view of the event, city news website Baltinfo.ru said.
Police officers tore down posters brought by some 20 fans who gathered by the consulate and threatened to slap activists with hefty fines for an unsanctioned public gathering, the report said.
A police car was following the Jackson aficionados down the street, and one activist spent several hours in detention under threat of a fine of up to 300,000 rubles ($9,000) for staging an unauthorized rally, Baltinfo.ru said.
The man eventually got away with a small fine for illegally putting up a poster.
Legislation on public rallies in Russia was radically tightened after regular anti-Kremlin protests held in Moscow since December erupted in violence on May 6.
New rules introduced more red tape and hiked fines for violations at public events or staging unsanctioned rallies from 1,000 to 300,000 rubles.
Many analysts said the legislation was the Kremlin’s attempt to suppress the protest drive and criticized the bill as too vaguely-worded, allowing police to crack down on almost any group of people gathering outdoors even for the most innocent reasons.
In an attempt to expose the bill’s more absurd ramifications, activists in the city of Nizhny Novgorod requested last week formal permission to hold a “march for a loaf of bread.”
The request was rejected, but some 10 activists still staged the “march” without permission on Tuesday, Niann.ru news website said.
They successfully purchased the loaf in question and managed to present it to a City Hall official without police interference, the report said.
In a less humorous move, an activist of The Other Russia unregistered party was sentenced on Monday to seven days’ arrest and a fine of 20,000 rubles for staging two solitary pickets in Moscow, the party said on its website.
Police ruled that the pickets violated rally legislation because the poster held by the activist, reading “Russia without [President Vladimir] Putin,” amounted to anti-constitutional activity, the report said.
Moscow City Hall also banned on Tuesday a picket by Left Front group, citing a track record of administrative violations by its head Sergei Udaltsov, the group said.
The ban was imposed in line with the new law on rallies, applied that way for the first time.