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."