Opposition Leaders Released Amid Fine Turmoil
Russian president Vladimir Putin ruffled a few feathers on Tuesday when he pushed forward a bill that would raise the fines for demonstrating and violating public order from only a few hundred dollars to more than $32,000, or 1 million rubles. The bill passed its first three readings, although the majority of the other parties outside of United Russia oppose the bill. Reuters reports that some of the deputies even wore white ribbons during the readings to illustrate their support for the opposition movement.
Still, the bill looks to face some resistance from the Kremlin’s human rights advisor. Mikhail Fedetov argues that the bill must be redrafted to include very clear language so that police do not abuse the law and arrest innocent demonstrators. Reuters quotes Fedetov as saying, “We need to specify when it can be applied, for example because a person used arms, started a fight, threw rocks at the police…” As the bill stands now, nearly any kind of demonstration could be considered a violation.
Debates about the proposed law come on the heels of a month of massive unrest and demonstrations after Putin’s reinstatement as Russia’s president. May 6 marked a massive protest in which hundreds of demonstrators were arrested and many others were shoved around or injured.
Among those arrested for demonstrating this month, opposition leaders Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov were recently jailed for 15 days for disobeying police. They were released on Thursday after multiple arrests in the month of May. About 100 supporters rallied around Navalny as he left the detention center on Thursday, according to the Huffington Post.
Many people speculate about the kinds of legal charges the two leaders could face. The New York Times suggests that the two could get sentences between two and five years for inciting mass disorder, nut officials may be reticent to charge them if they become catalysts in a movement that has maintained at least one roving camp in Moscow since the inauguration of Putin.
Navalny and Udaltsov stand by their campaign and plan to continue staging mass protests and demonstrations indefinitely. The Moscow Times quotes Navalny as saying, “They won’t scare us with iron beds and government porridge. If we have to go to prison two more times or 22 more times, we’ll do it.”
With the release of the opposition leaders, another tense political moment occurred at the State Duma open forum on Thursday. The forum was intended to encourage a debate about the proposed fine increase on demonstrators but many felt that only United Russia leaders were given a chance to speak. Opposition speakers protested the forum by walking out after they were shunned from speaking on the floor for more than 90 minutes. A United Russia Duma deputy argued that the opposition should not have left because they would have been given their chance to speak.
The looming threat of bloated fines does not look to stop Navalny and Udaltsov, who plan to foment and attend a June 12 demonstration. Both men face various charges, from laundering money to assault. Udaltsov joined the roaming protesters in the Moscow area of Bulat Okudzhava after his release, the Moscow Times reports. Continued unrest and global attention looks to be in the forecast as officials decide on the fate of the controversial bill.
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