On March 31 the draft law "On meetings, demonstrations,
and pickets" was passed by the State Duma.
This law was needed - previously, demonstrations had been regulated
by a law of the USSR from July 1988. However, the adopted draft law was
criticized by the opposition as a step to authoritarianism. One of the
former leaders of Yabloko party Sergey
Mitrokhin conducted a picket along with several activists near the
State Duma building to express their protest against the draft law. The
police detained the activists, as they had failed to notify the authorities
about the picket: they were subsequently discharged.
At the beginning of the 1990s demonstrations were common in Russia,
and each region in the country adopted its own law to regulate them.
The final version of the draft law is likely to be adopted by the Duma
with no problem, as the Duma leader - United Russia party supports the
law. The leader of United Russia Boris Gryzlov considered the draft more
democratic than the regulations for demonstrations applied in the past.
If you want to go on a demonstration, you must notify the authorities
in writing about your intention no later than 10 days before the demonstration.
The purpose and the methods of the demonstration should be mentioned.
After being informed that your notification has been accepted,you can
hold a demonstration.
Demonstrations are banned in some places. Some of these places have
always been on the banned list for demonstrations in Russia. However,
the deputies may regret that they added some other locations to the list.
Demonstrations are forbidden near the residency of the Russian President.
Activists have never been allowed in that area, guards always stopped
The new draft law forbids demonstrations near the buildings of federal,
regional and local authorities.
There is little logic in prohibiting demonstrations near the State Duma
building, for example. Every day thousands of people pass the Duma building.
One cannot say that the picket participants are more dangerous to the
State Duma than some terrorist who may choose the Duma building as a target
for a terrorist attack. Demonstrations are addressed to the authorities.
How will the authorities know about popular protests, if the demonstrations
are held in residential areas?
In addition, the new law forbids demonstrations near the enterprises
demanding a high level of technological and environmental security. This
can have an impact on the operations of non-government organizations protecting
the environment, such as Greenpeace. This organization has already criticized
the law and promised to submit an appeal to Russian Constitution Court
and the European Court on Human Rights. However, the legislators may be
right here. Some ecologists are radical and could break something in the
technology of such an enterprise. This might lead to an accident and adversely
affect the environment. Russia has had enough accidents without this.
As for forbidding demonstration near the Embassies of foreign countries,
our legislators were wrong to adopt this point. They probably they forgot
that almost all Russian political parties protested against the war in
Iraq near the American Embassy. United Russia (which adopted the draft
law) had the biggest demonstration of several thousand protesters. In
1999 politicians brought their supporters to the American Embassy to protest
against the bombing in Yugoslavia. How will the public express their criticism
of unfair foreign and domestic policy of other countries now?
The draft law has some other faults. The grounds for refusal to accept
the notification about a demonstration are unclear. The document says
that "the authorities can reject the notification, if the purposes
of the demonstration contradict the norms of society morale". There
is no legal definition of moral norms. Consequently an official will will
be granted the authority to decide what is moral or immoral.