Local Duma Seeks to Ban Marches in Center of City

Local Duma Seeks to Ban Marches in Center of City

Published: June 21, 2012 (Issue # 1713)

The St. Petersburg authorities are seeking to ban opposition rallies in the city center by introducing draft amendments to the local law “On Assemblies, Rallies, Demonstrations, Marches and Pickets in St. Petersburg.”

Brought up Wednesday by the Legislative Assembly’s Standing Commission on Law and Order, the bill bans all rallies and marches on 15 central squares including Palace Square, St. Isaac’s Square — where the Legislative Assembly is based — and Ploshchad Diktatury Proletariata, where City Hall is located, as well as on the main downtown streets such as Nevsky Prospekt, Liteiny Prospekt, Ligovsky Prospekt and Moskovsky Prospekt.

The bill, which originated in City Hall’s Law and Order Committee, also forbids the holding of rallies closer than 50 meters from buildings occupied by government agencies, specifically prosecutors’ offices, City Hall, the Palace of Congresses, consulates, television studios and churches, among others.

If the bill is passed, rallies will not be allowed to be held less than 200 meters from railroad and bus stations, seaports and airports.

Instead, the bill says that a number of “specially designated sites” will be created “for collective discussion of socially significant questions and expression of public sentiment on mainly socio-political issues.” Protesters will be given the right to hold assemblies there without applying for authorization, on the condition that the number of those present does not exceed 100. The bill leaves it to City Hall to designate those sites.

The Legislative Assembly’s deputy Alexander Kobrinsky, who is a member of the Standing Commission on Law and Order, said he had spoken out against the bill to his colleagues.

“In particular I asked if they understood that St. Petersburg would become the only city in the civilized world where citizens are forbidden to express protest or support for government offices, be they executive, legislative or judicial,” said Kobrinsky, who is a member of the oppositional Yabloko Democratic Party faction.

“Why do people come to rallies and other events? To demonstrate to the authorities that they have a certain opinion and not another. And this will be banned [in St. Petersburg].”

Kobrinsky confronted the authorities’ and bill supporters’ reasoning that it was needed for the convenience of pedestrians and vehicles.

“The European Court of Human Rights has pointed out repeatedly that any public assembly causes inconvenience for pedestrians and vehicles, but that the right of citizens to public expression of their opinion takes precedence, and it can’t be limited on grounds of practicability or [elimination of] hindrances,” he said.

“If people are forced to go around a rally, it’s inconvenient, but bearable. But if public assemblies are banned, it could lead to a social explosion, it could lead to violence, because people’s indignation will not go away. On the contrary, public assemblies are a way to let off steam.”

Kobrinsky said the bill would not be heard until the fall, because the Legislative Assembly goes on summer vacation after the next session, due June 27, and will resume its work on Sept. 1.

The Other Russia opposition party will not obey the bill if it is passed into law, as it violates the constitution, the party’s local leader Andrei Dmitriyev said. He said his party would continue to participate in Strategy 31, the campaign of rallies held in defense of the right of assembly that have taken place in the city since January 2010.

“These amendments are illegal because they violate Article 31 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation [that guarantees the right of assembly],” Dmitriyev said.

“[City Governor Georgy] Poltavchenko and the deputies are wrong to hope that protest activities will decrease; instead, these amendments will result in a bigger outburst.”

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