Russia toughens penalties on political protests

AFP , Tuesday 22 Jul 2014

Russia on Tuesday toughened the penalties for unsanctioned political protests, introducing criminal penalties of up to five years in jail for multiple violations.

President Vladimir Putin signed into law changes which place unsanctioned protests and rallies alongside instigating mass unrest in the criminal code.

"The repeated violation of the established procedures for the organisation or holding of rallies, gatherings, demonstrations, marches or picketing" is now considered an offence under the criminal code, the Kremlin said on its website.

Russian authorities often deny permission for public gatherings of opposition and human rights groups, and those who go ahead and hold meetings are often broken up by police.

The amendments "were adopted in order to establish criminal responsibility in case of repeated violations of public order or during mass demonstrations," it added.

Those who organise or actively participate in more than two unsanctioned public meetings and protests within six months can now be prosecuted and will face punishments of up to five years in jail or a fine of up to 1 million rubles ($29,000, 21,000 euros).

The law also doubled the amount of time protesters can be held under administrative law, from 15 to 30 days, for violations that include hampering public transport and exceeding the declared number of participants at a protest.

Putin, following his election to a third presidential term in 2012 that was marred by mass demonstrations, has signed a number of laws restricting the right to protest.

In April a law introduced a minimum term of four years in jail for causing large disruptions to public order, a charge several activists now face.

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