Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Russian Parliament Slaps Heavy Fines on Protesters

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Russian Parliament Slaps Heavy Fines on Protesters

Article excerpt

MOSCOW -- Russia's do-as-it's-told parliament showed unusual signs of defiance Tuesday, when a minority of lawmakers seized on a mostly unexplored tactic here -- the old-fashioned-filibuster -- and fought hard and long against a law to impose huge fines on protesters.

They had no hope of success -- Vladimir Putin's United Russia party holds 238 of the state Duma's 450 seats -- but they scored a huge victory nonetheless, making Russians pay attention to a normally rubber-stamp body that rarely makes news. On Tuesday evening, the Duma dominated Twitter, ahead of tweets about two quarreling pop stars and even forcing Today Is National Hug Your Cat Day into third place.

In this version of the filibuster, opposition deputies took turns introducing, discussing and voting on nearly 400 amendments to the law. As midnight approached, nearly 90,000 viewers had watched a Web broadcast of the proceedings, which had begun just after noon.

"All of a sudden the Duma has become a place for discussion," declared Gennady Gudkov, a member of the Just Russia party, which led the attack with some help from the Communists.

Just before midnight, the filibustering was cut short, and 241 Duma deputies voted in favor of the law. At midnight, the unprecedented session was declared over. The Federation Council, the upper house, promised to pass the law today.

"United Russia celebrates its victory, a Pyrrhic victory, which will result in the defeat of Russia," Mr. Gudkov tweeted. "They think they are forever. A stupid mistake."

The law's foes say it is intended to keep protesters off the streets, stifle freedom of speech and effectively nullify the Constitution's Article 31, which guarantees freedom of assembly. United Russia was eager to get it passed Tuesday, so it could be ready to deal with protesters planning a demonstration for the following Tuesday.

The law would raise fines for unsanctioned protests to about $9,000 for individuals, up from $60 now, and as much as $48,000 for organizers, up from $1,160. …

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