A Russian lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party has proposed two pieces of legislation that would further restrict citizens' rights to assembly.
The bills proposed in parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, by Dmitry Vyatkin on November 17 seek to ban the financing of rallies by foreign sources, would make it illegal for people to line up and replace participants of single-picket protests, and introduce restrictions for journalists covering such gatherings.
The bills would also ban public events and rallies near buildings housing emergency services, such as police or other security services.
The change to the law on single-pickets, one of the few remaining ways to protest without a permit in Russia, immediately sparked criticism from opposition lawmakers.
Oleg Shein of A Just Russia party told the daily Kommersant that by proposing such bills, the ruling United Russia party was putting itself in the "position of a besieged fortress, isolating itself from society's demands."
Shein pointed to ongoing mass protests in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk, which started in July over the arrest of the regional governor Sergei Furgal, saying that bans or restrictions on demonstrations failed to stop people from gathering to voice anti-government sentiments.
In addition, Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova said earlier this year that single-person pickets do not constitute “mass events.”
Human rights groups have called on the Russian government to cancel laws restricting the right to assembly for years.
In Russia, mass gatherings or pickets cannot be organized without permission obtained by local authorities.
Very often, such rallies or mass protests organized by opposition groups have been violently dispersed by police as illegal.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on November 18 refused to comment on the proposed bills, saying that he had not studied Vyatkin's initiative.