Anti-Protest Bill A Step Backwards For Political Freedom In Russia
Today featured some more disappointing news from the human rights front in Russia, as the Russian parliament passed a bill that will increase fines for people charged with participating in unauthorized protests.
According to an article by the BBC, the bill will "boost fines for violations from the current maximum 5,000 rubles (£99; $152) to 300,000 for participants and 600,000 for organizers." President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to approve the legislation, having previously voiced support for the bill as a necessary measure to "shield our people from radical actions."
Of course, few would argue that protecting the Russian people from radicalism is truly Putin's motivation for supporting this bill. Since winning a third presidential term, in an election that his opponents claim was riddled with fraud, Putin has faced a series of protests from Russians unhappy with the prospect of another six-year installment of the his presidency. This bill, then, can be seen as an effort to dissuade such demonstrations, intimidating the Russian populace with the prospect of harsh penalties.
Granted, it remains to be seen whether this legislation will actually succeed in stifling the anti-Putin protests. Next Tuesday is expected to be a test run for the bill's effectiveness, as Putin's opponents are reportedly planning new demonstrations to take advantage of the public holiday.
Putin's support for this bill does offer an interesting angle from which to analyze his anti-interventionist stance on Syria. Despite his claims that he seeks merely to protect Syria's sovereignty, it is certainly possible that Putin's support for the Assad regime stems from a desire not to validate the actions of the anti-government Syrian opposition. By withdrawing his support for Assad, Putin would be implicitly supporting the Syrian opposition, which may lead Russians to question why they should not also have the right to challenge their government. Therefore, Putin's position on the conflict in Syria may very well be rooted as much in domestic concerns as international ones.
Grim as this news may appear to be for human rights observers and Putin opponents, this bill's impending passage may have something of a silver lining. As the Chicago Tribune points out, by taking such a heavy-handed approach to the protests, Putin may actually be helping to fuel the intensity of his opposition and convince fence-sitters that their constitutional rights are, in fact, being seriously threatened. By approving such an overtly oppressive piece of legislation, Putin will be clearly establishing his view on the political freedom of the Russian people; what remains to be seen, of course, is how the Russian people will react.
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