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Politically motivated searches follow new law restricting freedom of assembly

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Moscow, 11.06.12 - ARTICLE 19 is concerned by reports of investigators and police searching the homes of high-profile opposition activists across Moscow today, 11 June, and the arrest of regional activists wanting to travel to Moscow for tomorrow's opposition meeting, named the 'March of Millions'.

The searches come in the wake of President Putin signing the Law on Meetings, Rallies, Demonstrations, Processions and Pickets, which violates the right to freedom of assembly, as enshrined in Article 31 of the Russian Constitution and in international human rights law.

“Whilst the Russian authorities continue to arrest individuals during and after peaceful meetings on politically motivated charges, lawmakers have quickly moved forward to enshrine into law the repression of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and of association, and of peaceful protest,” said Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

“President Putin has not followed the recommendations of his own Council for Human Rights and has hastily signed this law into force, turning the screws on those wanting to peacefully express their discontent or opposition,” she added.

The searches have so far included the homes of blogger Aleksei Navalnyi, activists Sergei Udaltsov and Ilya Yashin, and TV presenter Kseniya Sobchack. None of their phones are being answered and are reportedly switched off. The Investigative Committee under the President posted on its website that it is conducting these searches as part of its criminal investigation into the riots and violence against government officials on 6 May in Moscow during mass protests.

Since President Putin was elected on 4 March, there has been an increase in the repression of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, including demonstrations, artistic performances or political activities. The situation has dramatically deteriorated following the inauguration on 7 May 2012 of Vladimir Putin for his third term in presidential office.

President Putin signed the Law on Meetings, Rallies, Demonstrations, Processions and Pickets together with amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences on 9 June. It had been adopted by the State Duma on 5 June and approved by the Federation Council on 6 June. An expert analysis of the draft law that was presented to President Putin on 7 June by the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights indicated serious flaws but was ignored.

The new law provides for excessive administrative fines of up to RUB 300,000 ($9,300) and includes vague terminology, such as 'mass simultaneous stay or movement', ostensibly in an attempt to incorporate new forms of protest, such as flash mobs or mass protest walks.

The introduction of excessive sanctions is a further sign of the authorities wanting to enshrine into law repression of those peacefully exercising the right to express their opinion in a public manner.


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