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The lower house of the Russian parliament passed a controversial anti-protesting bill Tuesday, June 5th, with a final vote of 241 to 147. The bill will raise unsanctioned public gathering fines 150-fold, from 2,000 rubles to 300,000 rubles ($9000) for citizens and from 5,000 rubles ($1500) to 600,000 rubles ($18000) for government officials. These fine punishments are harsher than even the ones citizens can receive for the storage of nuclear materials in Russia.
Some protesters have attempted to avoid protesting fines in the past by not bringing signs, and instead silently marching in mass numbers. However, the bill also accounts for this possibility and includes punishments for these kinds of protests. Many worry that this bill violates the constitutional right to assembly.
The bill was edited after criticism that it was far too restrictive. Parts of the bill that were even more controversial were removed, including fines for individuals who spread the word about protests and rallies on the internet.
The bill was created after massive protests of more than one hundred thousand people protested opposing Putin’s 12-year rule. Putin’s United Russia party holds the majority in the upper and lower houses of the Russian parliament, and although opposition parties did their best to halt the bill with a slew of amendments, the United Russian party voted down all of them. Putin claims the bill is necessary for the Russian people and claimed, “we must shield our people from radical action.”
Members of the opposition are unsatisfied with this explanation. Sergei Mironov, the leader of Fair Russia opposition faction, claimed the bill will “spit in the face of the Russian people… this odious bill is an attempt to scare the people and shut their mouth.” Another member of the Fair Russia party, Gennady Gudkov warned, “in the past, tightening the screws in Russia has only caused bloodshed. This is a sure path to a civil war.” A member of the Communist Party, Anatoly Lokot argued, “instead of a dialogue you are offering a big stick.”
Even groups who normally support the Kremlin and vote with United Russia were unhappy. The Liberal-Democratic party voted against the bill and also tried to delay it with amendments.
The bill has ignited even more protests outside the State Duma building in recent days. At least twenty opposition activists, including the leader of the liberal Yabloko party, were detained on the Tuesday the bill was passed in the lower house.
Some young professionals who have regularly attended the protests have lost their jobs. One protester, Alisa Obraztsova, a 24-year-old lawyer, stated, “they thought they would discourage the protests by arresting people like me, who had never before been detained, but they only poured fuel on the fire.”
The bill passed in the upper house on Wednesday, June 6th, with only one voting against the bill and one abstaining. Now only Putin’s signature is necessary to sign it into law. The government wants the bill to be signed before a planned anti-government rally the week of June 11th.