Supreme Court experts recommend liberalizing Russian law on rallies

Supreme Court experts recommend liberalizing Russian law on rallies
Authorities cannot deny requests for rallies on grounds that the events might bring inconvenience to local residents or when another event is held in the same place at the same time, according to Russian Supreme Court experts.

The draft verdict of the Supreme Court Plenum – the full assembly of judges that is being called for making important decisions that could potentially affect many cases – said that the possibility of inconvenience for citizens, who are not participating in the planned events, cannot be used by local authorities as a reason to deny a license for the event to organizers. Experts who prepared the document noted that the principle applies even when temporary changes to public transport routes are needed.

In addition, the Supreme Court experts opposed the practice of punishing organizers of street events in cases where the actual number of participants exceeds the one mentioned in the license issued by the authorities, saying that such punishment should take place only if the overcrowding creates a real threat to citizens’ security.

At the same time, the draft contains some strict demands to protest organizers – the rallies must not obstruct street traffic or create dangers for its participants and holding several events in one place at one time must not create overcrowding or create the potential for conflicts between the different groups.

The court experts also cleared several controversial issues in practical application of the Russian law on rallies. In particular, they decided that rallies should be licensed by local authorities even if they are held on private land or in privately-owned buildings, like shopping malls.

The draft reads that the application for the event must be filed with the local bodies of executive power no sooner than 15 and no later than 10 days ahead of its scheduled date. The officials then must sanction the event or propose an alternative venue for it within three days, even if one of these days is a holiday. Lack of any reply can be considered by event organizers as a go ahead.

In comments with the Izvestia daily, several experts described the new document as a serious liberalization of the law and said that if the draft is approved by the Supreme Court it would be impossible for local authorities to quickly organize some spoiler events that legally force protest rallies from central locations of Russian cities and towns. Another improvement, noticed by experts, is that officials must back their refusals with valid reasons - the full list of which is enclosed within the draft.

The existing Russian law on rallies was introduced in June 2012 – a short time after a large-scale protest rally in Moscow erupted in riots and clashes with police, leading to arrests and criminal prosecutions. The new law greatly increased the fines for violating the strict rally rules and also toughened the rules on licensing public events. The steps were met with harsh criticism from human rights activists – both from NGOs and official bodies – and the authorities subsequently introduced several corrections to the law.

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