New Law Targets Dogs, Seers and Card Sharks

If you're thinking of taking your dog down to the schoolyard for a walk or playing cards with the boys in your courtyard, be warned: These seemingly innocuous pastimes could soon dent your pocketbook.

The City Duma on Wednesday unanimously passed a third and final reading of Moscow's first ever Administrative Offenses Code, which will establish fines for a raft of new minor offenses and boost fines for old ones.

The new law, set to take effect Jan. 1, includes penalties for offenses ranging from walking a dog on the premises of a school or institute to gambling in public, desecrating a municipal flag and hassling people to tell their fortunes.

The law raises the maximum fine for minor offenses from 2,500 rubles to 5,000 rubles for individuals; from 5,000 to 50,000 rubles for officials; and from 100,000 rubles to 1 million rubles for companies.

Playing cards, dominoes or other games for money or valuables in public can result in a maximum fine of 500 rubles under the new law.

Valery Zheleznyakov, an old-school card shark known on the poker circuit by the nickname Partizan, called the amount of the fine "stupidity."

"Any player would gladly sacrifice such a sum and continue playing," Zheleznyakov said in a telephone interview Wednesday after issuing a dismissive cackle. "Besides, it will be very hard for police to prove that someone is playing for money or valuables, to catch them in the act."

But in an addendum to the law, United Russia deputy Alexander Semennikov, who oversaw the creation of the bill, wrote that the new code is no laughing matter and that Muscovites would not be subject to Orwellian oversight.

"The code imposes much fewer restrictions on citizens than those people who created inconveniences for the rest of us with their sluggishness, carelessness, slovenliness and greed," Semennikov wrote.

Opposition Duma deputies said they voted for the bill because they considered it important legislation, despite the fact that several of their proposed amendments were not introduced.

"We are unhappy with several of the statutes in the bill, but unfortunately there is little we can do," Communist deputy Vladimir Ulas said, referring to United Russia's majority in the Duma.

Old laws establishing rules for public events were included in the new code, much to the dismay of Communist deputies, Ulas said.

"It allows city authorities to fight opposition under the guise of battling extremism," Ulas said.

Ulas said there was "nothing fundamentally new" in the code, which was primarily aimed at "bringing together already existing laws."

Yabloko Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin said several of his party's proposed amendments had been rejected but that the "most important amendment," which scrapped fines for public religious proselytizing, was included.

"That statute was offensive to people of nontraditional religions," Mitrokhin said.

Many of the statutes in the code were included in order to bring municipal laws in line with federal laws, Semennikov said. This includes a new law for desecrating a city flag, for which a person can now be fined from 2,000 to 2,500.

Desecration of the Russian flag is a criminal offense. A Saratov region resident was given a six-month suspended sentence recently for stomping on the Russian flag, Interfax reported Tuesday.