Amnesty International Blames Russia for Harsh Protest Laws

MOSCOW, June 3 (RIA Novosti) – Amnesty International has released a fresh report that condemns the latest changes in Russia’s protest laws in what it describes as a “clampdown on government critics and dissenting voices.”

“The respect for the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association has long been tenuous in Russia. In the two years since President Putin’s inauguration for a third term in May 2012, however, these have come under a sustained assault,” the human rights watchdog claimed.

AI admitted however that protests in Russia were not entirely forbidden. It cited the example of a thousand-strong March of Peace in opposition to Russia’s action on Crimea that was staged in its capital on 15 March this year.

It added that, “Legislative changes have tightened the screws on already restrictive regulations. New and old laws are being more restrictively applied, while the penalties for their transgression and the range of those falling within their scope have increased significantly.”

The report called “A right, not a crime: Violations of the right to freedom of assembly in Russia” gives an insight in Russia’s newest protest legislation and points out the curbs it allegedly put on the freedom of expression and assembly.

AI’s press release cited Denis Krivosheev, its Programs Director in Europe and Central Asia, who alleged that these freedoms had long been under threat in Russia and were now “in danger of being lost altogether.”

The report also inferred that in the aftermath of what it described as a the “crushing” of the Bolotnaya Square protest in May 2012, a lull in protest activity set in across the country that lasted till Crimea’s accession to Russia.

It turned the spotlight on Russian laws that require all protests to be reported beforehand and bans spontaneous demonstrations, which are now punished with fines and detentions.  It also emphasized the impact of the controversial “gay propaganda ban,” saying sexual minorities found the process of obtaining a rally permit particularly challenging.

The report includes a list of proposed steps the rights watchdog hopes the government in Russia will agree to consider in order to take the edge off the harsh regulations, including giving a “clear scope for spontaneous peaceful assembly”  and cancelling “overly restrictive duties” for failing to comply.

It also gives instructions on how to prevent police violence when dealing with protesters and protect the right to a fair trial for those detained during rallies.

“With protests banned, critical NGOs being forced to close and independent media being muzzled, dissent is increasingly being confined to the privacy of people’s homes. This is worrying for the future, and has ominous echoes of Russia’s not so distant past,” Denis Krivosheev said.

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