Muscovites who spent their weekend sharpening sundry rants in anticipation of an appearance at one of two Hyde Park-style "speakers' corners" will have to cool their heels for a few more months.
They were supposed to open by January 7, but RFE/RL correspondent Mikhail Salenko quoted officials
in the mayor's office as saying the relevant "legal documents" weren't ready. Moreover, authorities said they want to make those specially designated areas more "comfortable."
It's not clear what municipal measures are required to implement the scheme.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no legal immunity from prosecution in connection with London's iconic speaking stump -- which exists in other forms in a number of London parks as well as other cities.
Opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov suggested the delays were part of authorities' continuing efforts to keep a lid on dissent.
"The authorities -- in this case the Moscow City Duma -- deliberately continue to encroach on our freedoms," Udaltsov told RFE/RL's Russian Service. "For the past six months, we have seen them consistently restricting our constitutional right to freedom of assembly."
The plan is to allow two open-air venues for truly free public speech at Gorky Park
and Sokolniki Park in the capital.
Officials now predict the speakers' corners will start to work in April.
Such spots offer little solace to Putin detractors in the face of Kremlin control of the media and airwaves, not to mention the clampdown since huge demonstrations surprised authorities after the last Duma and presidential elections.
This crackdown has since resulted in tighter laws against public gatherings and heftier fines for transgressors, as well as moves to curb the influence of "foreign agents."
With or without a few pockets of free speech, Russia remains a political jungle with President Vladimir Putin as its undisputed king.
In fact, the idea for the free-speech zones was first floated by then-Prime Minister-and-candidate Putin at the height of the street demonstrations that mostly targeted him, sparking suggestions
that it was simply a ploy to further defang the opposition.
-- Andy Heil