Russian Opposition MPs Seek Alternative Protest Bill

Two Russian opposition lawmakers are looking to block the passage of a controversial new law which could see a massive increase in fines for unapproved rallies by submitting an alternative bill.

The alternative draft bill reconciles the original law with proposals made by rights activists and opposition politicians, A Just Russia party lawmaker Ilya Ponomaryov said on his LiveJournal blog.

It was drawn up by a group headed by former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who resigned last year after a public falling-out with then president and current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

The new bill proposes making no changes to the current modest fines for participants in illegal protests, and envisages “the possibility of other forms of events” including tent camps and sit-ins, as well as “spontaneous protests.”

The original bill, drafted by the ruling United Russia party, was approved in the first reading by Russia’s lower house, the State Duma, a week ago and came in the wake of unprecedented protests against the rule of President Vladimir Putin. It could come into law in early June, just ahead of new anti-Putin demonstrations slated for June 12 in Moscow and St Petersburg.

The bill proposes a maximum fines for participation in illegal protests of 900,000 rubles ($29,000). The current fine is just 5,000 rubles ($160)

The Duma’s constitutional legislation committee proposed on Wednesday dropping the fine to 300,000 rubles ($9,600). The average salary in Russia is around $900, although wages are much higher in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Several opposition figures walked out of a roundtable ordered by Putin to discuss the law last week.

“There is no discussion here at the Discussion of the Law on Protests,” wrote protest leader Yevgenia Chirikova in a Twitter post after she had quit the meeting, which was hosted by United Russia.

Dmitry Gudkov, A Just Russia MPs and the alternative bill’s other initiator, said last week opposition lawmakers would attempt to derail the second reading of United Russia’s bill by tabling thousands of amendments.

Vastly increased fines for illegal protests were proposed by United Russia in the wake of clashes between police and demonstrators at a downtown Moscow rally on the eve of Putin’s May 7 inauguration as president for a third term.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, reportedly told opposition lawmaker Ilya Ponomaryov earlier this month that protesters who injured riot police deserve to have their “livers smeared on the sidewalk.”


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