Russians who disagree with their government will soon face crushing fines for “unauthorised” protests. The Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, has approved fines ranging from 300,000 to 1m rubles ($9,000 to $32,100) for protesting in public without official permission.
United Russia, the party of three-time president Vladimir Putin, controls the Duma, and pushed the measure through despite vigorous efforts to derail the bill by the opposition. Human rights groups and European Union parliamentarians have called the law inconsistent with democratic values. The bill still needs to get final approval from the senate and from the president himself – but Putin's support is no secret, and both measures are considered formalities.
Under the law's vague wording, fines could even be levied for "being en masse simultaneously", an apparent attempt to criminalise the "walking protests" in which participants try to avoid arrest by simply walking together silently without signs or banners. The maximum fine would apply to organisers of unauthorised protests.
Opposition parties and protest groups have promised to fight back, and have applied for a protest permit for 50,000 people on 12 June. So far, that permit has not been granted – which may mean a direct challenge to the new law within days.
Read more: What are Putin's priorities? The Associated Press has compiled a list of crimes – including mishandling nuclear materials – that attract lighter penalties than the new fines for unauthorised free speech.