Russia’s lower house of parliament approved in its final hearing on Tuesday a controversial law that greatly increases the maxiumum fine for taking part in or organizing unsanctioned protests.
Police arrested some 20 protesters outside the State Duma as lawmakers discussed the bill. Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the liberal opposition party Yabloko, was one of those detained at the rally, which drew several dozen people, police said.
The new fines were proposed by deputies from the ruling United Russia party in the wake of clashes between police and protesters at a downtown Moscow rally on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s May 7 inauguration as president for a third term.
The original draft bill of the law envisioned an increase in the maximum fine for participation in illegal demonstrations from the current 5,000 rubles ($160) to 1,000,000 rubles ($30,000). But opposition party objections and public pressure saw the maximum proposed fine fall to 300,000 rubles ($9,600).
Fines for the organizers of protests that fail to comply with federal regulations on demonstrations shoot up from 50,000 rubles ($1,160) to 1.5 million rubles ($48,000).
Those who are unable to pay the fines will be ordered to perform from 20 to 200 hours of community service, for a maximum of four days a week. The law also bars anyone with a criminal record from organizing protests.
The bill was fast-tracked through parliament ahead of an anti-Putin rally planned for Moscow on June 12. It will become law if, as expected, it is approved by the upper house of parliament on Wednesday.
“This will do nothing to stop the protests,” opposition leader and Yeltsin-era Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told RIA Novosti after the bill's first hearing. “It will only make demonstrators more radical.”
The original draft bill was also criticized as unduly harsh by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who took over the leadership of United Russia from Putin last month.