Russia’s Federation Council, the upper parliamentary chamber, approved a new bill on rallies by 132 votes against one with one abstention on Wednesday morning. It happened hours after the bill passed the lower house, the State Duma, with the deputies sitting until almost midnight, as they had to vote on the several hundred amendments brought forth by the opposition in an attempt to drag out the debates. The bill raises penalties for troublemakers to 300,000 rubles ($10,000) for individuals, 600,000 rubles ($20,000) for officials and 1 million rubles (over $30,000) for organizations. It will take effect the moment President Vladimir Putin signs it into law.
Earlier, Chairman of the Presidential Human Rights Council Mikhail Fedotov said that the bill was a “mistake” and urged the upper and lower house speakers Sergei Naryshkin and Valentina Matviyenko to reject it.
"This mistake is fraught with serious human rights violations and a deeper social conflict. On top of everything else, it contradicts the Russian Constitution and other Russian laws, including the Labor Code, the Civil Code, the Criminal Code, and so forth."
Meanwhile, Valentina Matviyenko said that she had not received any formal address from Fedotov. So the only thing left for him to do now is to apply to the president, something he intends to do.
The existing penalties for breaching the law on rallies are largely symbolical. By introducing harsher fines, the new bill aims at making rallies more civilized and at ensuring people’s safety, Andrei Vorobyov, leader of the United Russia faction in the Duma, told reporters yesterday.
"Democracy is not only about the rights and opportunities, but also about one’s responsibility for one’s actions. That’s why, after open debates and discussions, including with the president, we initiated this bill which is completely democratic and in tune with experience in the modern world."
Yesterday’s debates lasted 11 hours. Despite that, the bill managed to clear the second and third readings before midnight. Anatoly Lokot, a spokesman for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) faction, said that the opposition would stick to its point:
"The bill you have just passed is not the best bill in your life. But God be the Judge. The LDPR will not vote for this, because even now we can’t hold our rallies normally. Even now we are not allowed to hold them."
The A Just Russia party boycotted the vote. A Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov described the bill as “anti-popular”.
The Duma passed the bill in its second and third readings just in time for it to be put on the agenda of the next morning’s plenary session of the Federation Council. The senators did not procrastinate and approved it before noon.
The bill will now be sent to the president for signing. It’s unclear where Vladimir Putin will use his right of veto. His press secretary Dmitry Peskov has announced that the president can only return the bill to parliament if it clashes with European standards.