Russia passes law to fine protesters $9,000

The upper chamber of Russia's Parliament has approved a bill that raises fines 150-fold for people taking part in unsanctioned rallies.
Russian police detain a protester outside the parliament building in Moscow on Tuesday. At least two dozen people have been detained outside Russian Parliament in Moscow as they were protesting against a bill on public rallies. Opposition leaders say that the law would also exacerbate tensions in the Russian society and leave the public with no free leeway of expressing their discontent. (Misha Japaridze/AP Photo)

The upper chamber of Russia's Parliament on Wednesday approved a bill that raises fines 150-fold for people taking part in unsanctioned rallies. The much debated legislation now needs only the president's signature to become law.

The Federation Council voted 132-1 to support the bill after a short debate. In the lower chamber on Tuesday, lawmakers discussed it for some 11 hours before the pro-Kremlin United Russia rammed it through at midnight. The opposition factions in the State Duma put forward several hundred amendments in an unprecedented attempt to stymie the bill's passage, reflecting a new willingness to stand up to the Kremlin.

The bill would jack up fines from the current 2,000 rubles to 300,000 rubles ($9,000). The legislation has been seen as a response to a series of massive anti-government protests and aimed at discouraging further street protests challenging President Vladimir Putin.

Sergei Lisovsky, one of the few Federation Council members to express concerns about the bill, said it imposes disproportionally high fines on protesters but does not provide for higher penalties against police brutality.

Major protest next week

"We're talking about citizens of our country here, and we must listen to them," said Lisovsky. "Where is the liability for the police who can potentially do more harm to our society?"

The Kremlin wants the new bill to become law by next Tuesday when the opposition plans a major protest in Moscow.

Alexei Kudrin, a former deputy prime minister who joined the opposition movement last winter, said in a statement on Wednesday that the bill violates a constitutional right of assembly. He urged a review of the bill.

Along with higher fines, the new bill would punish organizers of "large-scale public gatherings" which are not public events if they disrupt public order. Kudrin, who is believed to maintain strong ties to Putin, said that this provision would allow authorities to fine a bride and groom if some of their guests start a fight.