Aleksandr Litoi: Fines for "abuse of the right to hold events" as high as 100,000 roubles [OVD-Info]

posted 11 Jun 2018, 06:03 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 11 Jun 2018, 06:24 ]
29 May 2018

By Aleksandr Lito    

Source: OVD-Info 

Bills have been introduced into the State Duma providing for penalties for the "abuse of the right to hold events." A fine of up to 100,000 roubles could be imposed for canceling an approved street demonstration without notifying the authorities. Events will have to be canceled no less than one day ahead of time. At the moment, 15 deputies have already joined the list of bill drafters, and the bill has been submitted to a dedicated committee for consideration. 

Securing order 

Two bills were proposed in the State Duma on 17 May that introduce the concept of "abuse of the right to hold events." One of them stipulates changes to the law about protests. The following passage is planned as part of the bill: "In the event that a public event is canceled more than one day before it is to be held, measures will be taken to inform the public and written notice will be given to the executive authority of the region of the Russian Federation or the local government, in which notification was given about the public event, about the decision made." (Punctuation as in the original) 
Police officers at 5 May protests in St. Petersburg / Photo: David Frenkel 

The Second bill introduces a new article to the Administrative Violations Code (AVC), 20.2.3: "Abuse of the right to hold public events." 

Abuse will constitute "giving notice about a public event with no intention of holding the event or in non-compliance with the requirement of notifying the executive authority of the region of the Russian Federation or the local government about the cancellation of the public event." 

United Russia proposes fines for failure to notify (less than a day in advance) that an event approved by the authorities will not be held. For ordinary citizens, the fine will be from 5,000 to 20,000 roubles; for officials it will range from 10,000 to 30,000; and for legal entities it will range from 20,000 to 100,000 roubles. 

Behind the initiative is United Russia deputy Dmitry Vyatkin. In 2012, he was among the initiators of controversial bills on stricter punishments for violations at protests and bills on "foreign agents." 

"The main point of the bill is to reinforce norms of administrative accountability for notifying that protests have been canceled. The authorities incur expenses during protests, for example on tightened security. Barriers have to be put up, metal detectors have to be put in place," Dmitry Vyatkin told OVD-Info. 

According to Vyatkin, lawmakers do not plan to further elaborate the concept of "giving notice about a public event with no intention of holding the event." The deputy also says that the bill is not associated with any event, but rather is broadly related to analysis of how protests are coordinated in Russia. 

Russian legislation on public protests stipulates that local authorities be notified about any kind of protest activity. During the coordination process, they assess potential risks and, depending on these risks, appeal to law enforcement. Consequently, the expenses of authorities and police for safety at public events can vary greatly, Konstantin Markin explained to OVD-Info. Markin is a lawyer who defends those detained at protests in Moscow. 

At the moment, the bills have been sent to the lower chamber's dedicated committee on the development of civil society, which must reject them or recommend them for a first reading. Vyatkin is the first deputy chair of this committee. 

You can follow the bills in parliament here and here. At the moment, there are 14 deputies among the initiators of the bill, in addition to Vyatkin. 

One of them, Mikhail Emelyanov, first deputy head of the faction A Just Russia, told OVD-Info that he supports their adoption, since they can be used to prevent authorities from refusing to permit protests by announcing the holding of various other events, that often do not in fact take place, in those places where the organisers wished to hold the protest. 

This was how, for example, numerous requests for the protests as part of the "He’s Not Our Tsar " campaign were turned down. 

Unlawful delays 

OVD-Info’s monitoring activities have revealed that the authorities are already attempting to bring administrative actions against certain opposition activists on the grounds of their failure to notify the authorities that an approved demonstration for which they had submitted an application would not take place – even though this is something which happens very rarely. 

This was exactly what happened to Vadim Ananin, the PARNAS and “Open Russia” coordinator in Kirov. 

He had planned to hold a demonstration against Vladimir Putin’s presidential campaign on 24 December 2017, but his application was refused by the local authorities in Kirov, which suggested that Ananin should hold a picket at a Hyde Park-style “Speakers’ Corner” instead. According to the activist, he would normally have sent the town hall a written refusal, but on this occasion merely informed the police that he would be staging a one-man picket. 

“The Kirov local authorities were expecting me to stage a picket and had made the relevant preparations, but did not receive any response from me; in their opinion, this means that I broke the law and should be punished," writes Ananin on his VKontakte page. 

Police officers contacted him for information in connection with an investigation under Article 20.2, paragraph 1 of the Code of Administrative Offences (contravention of the procedure for holding a demonstration by the party responsible for organising it). Ananin told OVD-Info that he had submitted a statement, but the case had not yet been filed before a court. 

According to the lawyer Konstantin Markin, the unannounced cancellation of a demonstration which has been approved beforehand cannot constitute an administrative office. He believes that cases where an individual has announced that he or she will be staging a picket but fails to show up, and the local authorities incur expenses as a result, are civil-law matters, and compensation claims can already be lodged by the authorities against such individuals. 

A fictional example 

The bills laid before parliament are not backed up by statistical evidence of any kind, and the only example cited in the explanatory note raises many questions. 

According to this document, “The most notable example of these abuses is the submission by a single citizen of 660 applications to hold 660 public demonstrations on a single holiday at the start of December 2017, in the same location in St Petersburg (a new public demonstration every minute). All of the demonstrations were approved, but none actually took place. The mandated authorities were obliged to ensure the presence of representatives of the law-enforcement agencies and ambulance crews in the notified location for 11 hours." 

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t have access to facts and figures for St Petersburg. If you do, I’d be interested to see them,” Vyatkin told OVD-Info.

The press service of the Committee on Justice, Rule of Law and Public Safety of the St Petersburg Administration told OVD-Info that it had experienced a situation where the same individual had submitted hundreds of applications for demonstrations, but failed to answer our question as to whether all of the applications were approved at the same time. 

At the end of November 2017, the St Petersburg Town Hall received 1,350 applications from Aleksey Navalny’s supporters who wished to organise meetings with him in connection with the electoral campaign. The applications were submitted by two “parties”, the first of which submitted 650, and the second 700. Not one of the applications was approved.
The applications were submitted by Denis Mikhailov, the coordinator of Navalny’s campaign office in St Petersburg. In a conversation with OVD-Info, he said that the explanatory note was clearly referring to him, although it heavily misrepresented what had actually happened. 

Mikhailov forwarded to OVD-Info the response he had been sent by the Committee on Justice, the Rule of Law and Public Safety of the St Petersburg Administration after submitting his 650 applications. 

This response reveals that the notifications related to 14 different locations rather than a single location. The authorities suggested to the representatives of Navalny’s campaign office in St Petersburg that the demonstrations should be moved to Udelny Park, but this suggestion did not suit Navalny’s colleages; the latter did not notify the authorities that the demonstrations would be held in Udelny Park, and so there would have been no reason for the police and ambulance crews to attend the location. 

Killing the desire 

‘In reality the authorities call the police and incur some kind of expenses for handling pickets and demonstrations. So in the case of a cancellation they request that notification that the action won’t be taking place to at least be sent by email. Organizers practically always meet them halfway. It’s very rare for people to announce a protest and then not show up without giving advance notice’, says Sergei Davidis, representative of the Solidarity movement, an applicant for a large number of pickets and larger-scale opposition demonstrations and marches in Moscow. 

‘I haven’t heard of such situations in which the authorities would suffer some loss, or of recent events which could have been grounds for these legislative proposals. But the business of public demonstrations is a touchy subject for the government in principal. Thus the ever newer limitations on freedom of assembly, a perfect theme for State Duma figures who desire to distinguish themselves, to stand out, and to look useful’, adds Davidis. 

Nikolai Lyaskin, member of the central council of Aleksei Navalny’s new party, ‘Russia of the Future,’ noted in an interview with OVD-Info that the bills will render impossible the tactic of coordinating protests carried out all over Russia during an electoral campaign. 

‘We submit several, sometimes hundreds of notifications of various protests (from demonstrations to street stands), with several applicants in the hope that at least something will be approved. If several are approved, then at the last moment you decide where it’s more advantageous to hold them. Until now it’s been possible to back out of a request ten minutes before the demonstration, but now we’ll have to do it twenty-four hours in advance. In those twenty-four hours they can detain the applicant so that the demonstration can’t take place’, says Lyaskin. 

So submitting applications for ‘reserve’ demonstrations (in case an applicant is detained) – demonstrations which will most likely not take place – will become an administrative offence. 

Additionally, according to the law on public demonstrations, a person who has been fined for two or more offences with regard to demonstrations is limited in his/her right to apply for new ones. However, Lyaskin stressed in his interview with OVD-Info that if these bills do become law, Navalny’s supporters will continue the practice of mass applications for public demonstrations: Lyaskin assumes that the law will be applied very selectively. 

Translated by Mark Nukhols, Nina de Palma, Tatjana Duff