Russian rights chief urges Putin to veto protest law
MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin's human rights adviser said on Wednesday he will urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to veto a bill to increase fines for protesters deemed to have broken the law, unless it is rewritten.
The bill has been proposed by the dominant United Russia party to try to suppress protests against Putin's rule.
It proposes raising fines to 1.5 million roubles ($48,000) for protest organizers and 1 million roubles ($32,000) for demonstrators for violating public order during government-sanctioned rallies.
It passed its first of three readings by ten votes on Tuesday, despite being opposed by all other parties in the 450-seat lower house of parliament.
In a rare show of defiance against the ruling party, 207 deputies, some wearing the white-ribbon symbol of the protest movement, voted against the tougher sanctions.
Putin returned to the presidency for a third term this month weakened after tens of thousands came out against his rule in a wave of winter protests in Moscow and other cities.
The number of demonstrators has shrunk since the first protests following suspicions of fraud in favor of United Russia in December's parliamentary election.
But growing disenchantment with the party has emboldened opposition parties and stripped Putin of his aura of invincibility.
"If this law is approved as it now stands by both houses of parliament then the council will ask the president to veto the bill," Mikhail Fedotov, chairman of the presidential Civil Society and Human Rights Council, told Reuters after voicing concerns to Putin in a televised meeting.
Putin backed the bill but struck a conciliatory tone, calling for dialogue with opponents of the law in response to Fedotov's request for a revision of what he said was vague wording that may lead to abuses.
"We must guard people against some kinds of extreme, radical displays. Society, the state has a right to defend itself," Putin said at a meeting that included United Russia deputies.
Existing fines of 1,000-300,000 roubles ($30-$1,000) for violations during government-sanctioned rallies are largely symbolic.
Fedotov said the draft law must be fleshed out to detail what crimes are punishable by fines.
"This law is far from being adopted yet by both houses of parliament ... It must be rewritten almost fully, by almost 90 percent," Fedotov told Reuters.
"We need to specify when it can be applied, for example because a person used arms, started a fight, threw rocks at the police, smashed or overturned a car or broke shop windows."
Opposition leaders, who denounced the bill as a crackdown on freedoms on Wednesday, accuse police of detaining activists without just cause following clashes with demonstrators on the eve of Putin's inauguration in which batons were used in the worst violence since the wave of protests began.
"This law is part of an effort to tighten the screws, it is very dangerous," environmental activist-turned-protest leader Yevgeniya Chirikova told Ekho Moskvy radio. "It violates citizens' constitutional right to freedom of assembly."
Riot police detained more than 400 people at the May 6 protest and hundreds more on inauguration day, when they cleared streets near the path of Putin's convoy of peaceful protesters and bystanders.
President from 2000-2008 and prime minister until his inauguration, Putin has angered Russians who want change and fear the continuation of his rule will bring political and economic stagnation.
(Reporting By Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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