Monday, May 21, 2018

Russia lawmakers advance bill on penalties for protesters

MOSCOW — Stiff new penalties aimed at opposition protesters were given preliminary approval Tuesday by Russian lawmakers loyal to President Vladimir Putin, the target of mass rallies and demonstrations before his March election victory.

The bill, which opposition parliament members termed draconian and protested by threatening to file out of a legislative session, calls for fines of up to $50,000 and up to 200 hours of community service for organizers of rallies and demonstrations that grow violent or exceed the approved number of participants.

The sanctions were approved on first reading by parliament's lower house, which is controlled by Putin's United Russia party. They mark a return by the Kremlin to a tough stance against critics after concessions during the recent election campaign.

The sanctions also could trigger a strong response by anti-Putin forces, who have continued their street protests since the president was sworn into office.

"This is a monstrous legislation which demonstrates that Putin is set to prevent mass protests by any means," Sergei Mitrokhin, the leader of the Yabloko party, said in an interview shortly after he was briefly detained by police Tuesday for picketing the parliament. "This is just the beginning of Putin's counteroffensive as his regime will be getting more and more repressive by the day."

The authorities want to scare people away from taking part in protests, but that will serve to only radicalize government opponents, Mitrokhin predicted.

Large-scale protests have taken place since December, when the Kremlin was held responsible for alleged massive fraud in parliamentary elections that saw the ruling United Russia party take about 50 percent of the vote.

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