Russia’s Upper House Passes Bill to Increase Protest Fines

Posted June 6th, 2012 at 10:20 am (UTC-5)
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Russia's upper house of parliament has approved a bill that dramatically raises fines for people involved in unauthorized rallies, hours after the lower house passed the measure.

The Federation Council voted 132 to one Wednesday in favor of the bill with one abstention.

To become law, it needs the signature of President Vladimir Putin, whose ruling United Russia party introduced the bill.

Mr. Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, says the president will oppose the law only if it runs counter to the free speech practices of European countries.

The measure raises the maximum fine on an individual illegal street protestor from about $60 to about $9,000, introduces the optional sentence of compulsory community service of up to 200 hours, and makes other changes aimed at stifling unsanctioned rallies. Organizers of illegal protests face up to $30,000 in fines.

The bill was introduced after activists held mass protests against the possible 12-year rule of Mr. Putin, a scenario many Russians find unsettling.

Opposition leaders such as Alexei Navalny have urged people to turn out for a protest later this month, when the bill is set to become law. On Tuesday, police detained some 20 people demonstrating against the bill outside the Kremlin-controlled parliament, where opposition lawmakers proposed more than 350 amendments to delay passage of the measure.

Critics say the bill will increase tensions in Russian society and make it very difficult to hold protests. The Kremlin says the law is meant to keep ordinary citizens safe.

Mr. Putin was elected to a record third presidential term in March. He served as president from 2000 to 2008, before becoming prime minister under former president Dmitry Medvedev.

A constitutional amendment has extended the president's time in office to two consecutive six-year terms, meaning Mr. Putin could stay in power until 2024.