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Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to review the implementation of laws and regulations affecting the right of Russian citizens to assemble and demonstrate freely.

Putin on December 2 endorsed a request made by the Presidential Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights during a meeting with the president in October to conduct the review.

He ordered Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika to report back to him on the matter by February 15, 2018, just weeks before the March presidential election in which Putin is expected to seek and secure a fourth term as president.

Rights activists in Russia say the authorities routinely undermine the constitutionally guaranteed right of Russian citizens to protest and assemble peaceably through many formal and informal means.

Under current legislation, demonstrations must be approved in advance by local authorities, who often use this requirement to move demonstrations to inconvenient locations or to forbid them entirely due to purported conflicting events.

Efforts to hold demonstrations or meetings in private spaces are often thwarted by official pressure on venue owners or by spurious bomb scares or power outages.

Citizens attempted to hold single-person protests, which do not require advance approval, are often detained and held for short periods without charge.

Opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has repeatedly been detained before even reaching the location of scheduled protests.

Putin's December 2 order instructs the Prosecutor-General's Office to "analyze the practice of enforcement of Russian laws as regards the Russian citizens' right to assemble peacefully, without weapons, and hold assemblies, rallies, demonstrations, processions, and pickets."

During the October meeting with his civil society council, Putin said: "Freedom must be guaranteed…. We also understand and know that, unfortunately, some groups of protesters or organizers of those events often deliberately make the situation tense in order to draw attention to themselves.

"It is also wrong to deliberately obstruct normal daily activities of major cities and block streets to traffic, causing aggression," he added. "There is a need to work very carefully with both parties to this process."

With reporting by Interfax and Meduza
Truckers across Russia began nationwide protests against the Platon road-tax system in late 2015. 

The Russian government has pinned the "foreign agent" label on a long-haul truckers organization that has been holding protests against a road tax since 2015.

The Justice Ministry said on December 1 that a surprise inspection of the United Truckers of Russia's documents revealed evidence that it "carries out the functions of a foreign agent."

The ministry's brief statement gave no further explanation and did not name any country or foreign organization that was allegedly funding the group.

The NGO was established after truckers across Russia began nationwide protests against the Platon road-tax system in late 2015.

United Truckers head Andrei Bazhutin said last month that the group plans to start a new series of protests in mid-December, ahead of the registration of candidates for Russia's March 18 presidential election.

A 2012 law requires any NGO that receives funding from abroad and is deemed to be engaged in political activity to formally register as a "foreign agent." A 2014 amendment enables the Justice Ministry to place groups on the list itself.

Russian and international human rights organizations have said the law was introduced to silence independent voices.

They describe it as part of a clampdown on dissent under President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to secure a new six-year term in the election.

With reporting by Meduza

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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