ROAR: “Unexpected veto”

The president’s veto on the federal bill amending the law “On Assemblies, Rallies, Demonstrations, Processions, and Pickets” will not allow parliament to impose new restrictions on public rallies, rights activists say.

According to one amendment adopted by the deputies, protest events on transport should be considered a form of public action to be agreed upon with authorities.

The new legislation also obliged a rally’s organizers to notify the authorities three working days before an event. The bill also put special restrictions on using transport vehicles in protest events.

Many human rights activists have welcomed the rare occurrence of the president’s veto in Russian political life. “This shows that not only in words we are aspiring to democratic practices that exist in Europe and the USA,” Lev Ponomarev, head of the For Human Rights movement, told RIA Novosti news agency. “This move may not seem to be very significant, but essentially it is very important,” he stressed.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, believes that the parliament’s amendments infringe upon citizens’ constitutional rights for freedom of assembly. In particular, the bill would extend the grounds for banning a rally.

“Applicants who have been reprimanded by the authorities over rallies at least once would be deprived of the right to apply for a year,” Alekseyeva told Izvestia daily. “All of those who attend the rallies would be gradually prohibited,” she added.

“Citizens should be given the right to express their opinions,” said Aleksandr Brod, a member of the Public Chamber and the director of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights. “It is important that the president has heeded the voice of the public,” he told Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily. Human rights activists had criticized the document from the beginning, but “the State Duma did not hear that voice earlier,” he noted.

The Moscow city authorities recently allowed opposition groups and human rights activists to hold a rally on Triumfalnaya Square in downtown Moscow. Several previous protest events on the square had been banned and their participants dispersed.

“The permission to hold an opposition rally on Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow on the last day of October has turned out to be not accidental gesture of generosity by the federal authorities towards ‘dissenters’ who have been considered by the Kremlin not otherwise than ‘an orange threat’,” Vremya Novostey daily said, commenting on Medvedev’s veto.

“In line with this new, extremely pragmatic Kremlin policy toward ‘dissenters,’ Medvedev’s explanations seem to be reasonable, as he stressed that the parliament’s initiatives were not constitutional,” the daily noted. Recently, “some clauses of the constitution supported by those ‘dissenters’ who come to Triumfalnaya Square, have not been interpreted by the Kremlin and regional authorities in favor of opposition groups,” the paper said.

The amendments to the law had been submitted by some deputies from United Russia, Fair Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party, the paper recalled. The new legislation does not make sense and could have been evaded, believes Aleksey Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies. “Taking the decision to veto the bill, the president thought about the need to retain the balance between elites,” he told the daily. “After the adoption of additional rights of the Federal Security Service the president had to restore his reputation as a liberal,” the analyst added.

At the same time, the parliament’s deputies have expressed their readiness to change the legislation. “There is nothing extraordinary in this situation, believes Andrey Vorobyev, the head of the United Russia’s central executive committee. According to the usual procedure the president’s proposals will be considered “and the law may be improved,” Vremya Novostey quoted him as saying.

Despite the veto, “the president has a positive attitude toward the idea of updating the federal law On Assemblies, Rallies, Demonstrations, Processions and Pickets,” a Kremlin secretariat source said, Interfax news agency reported. The work on amendments will continue in order to eliminate the existing inconsistencies, he added.

"The deputies from the Communist Party in the State Duma have welcomed Medvedev’s decision. The president has defended the Constitution article guaranteeing the people’s right to freely express their opinion by holding mass actions,” Sergey Obukhov, a State Duma deputy and a Communist Party Central Committee secretary, told Interfax. The Communists had voted against the bill, he stressed.

“Now United Russia and its supporters from the Liberal Democratic Party and Fair Russia will have to give up their principled position and revise this bill, taking into account the head of state’s objections, with which we absolutely agree,” Obukhov noted.

Eduard Limonov, a prominent opposition leader and co-organizer of rallies on Triumfalnaya Square, described the president’s move as “good and unexpected news.” He told the agency he would be able to “submit notifications about rallies on Triumfalnaya Square again.” Local authorities “should be deprived of the opportunity to interfere and issue some provisional decrees and regulations” that contradict the constitution, he said.

One of the authors of the amendments, deputy Sergey Markov from the ruling United Russia made it clear that he understood the president’s reasons. According to him, Medvedev “went towards meeting the public opinion that was critical” about the new legislation, Kommersant daily said. Both houses of the parliament and the presidential administration will now form a conciliatory commission to change the bill, the deputy noted.

Sergey Borisov,Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT