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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Regulating Rallies With Statues and Chairs

The Moscow City Duma passed a bill Wednesday giving City Hall the power to ban a demonstration because it is near a monument or historical building and requiring political parties to prove they are legally registered every time they want to rally.

Critics say the bill, which will now be sent to Mayor Yury Luzhkov to be signed into law, is the latest attempt by city authorities to stifle dissent on the street.

Initiated by the City Hall with the support of United Russia, the bill was unanimously approved by the majority United Russia faction, while the two opposition factions, Yabloko and the Communists, voted against it.

Under the bill, parties and public organizations will have to present a pile of new documents to obtain permission for a public gathering.

Yabloko Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin complained at Wednesday's session that the bill would make for "additional bureaucratic obstacles."

The bill requires organizations to submit a notarized letter confirming their registration as a legal entity each time they want to hold a public gathering.

This will lead to extra expenses and lost time for parties, Communist Deputy Sergei Nikitin said after the session. There is no reason to force a political party that is already registered with the Justice Ministry, for example, to confirm its registration for each new public gathering, he said.

The bill also grants City Hall the power to ban public gatherings near historical and cultural monuments, though it states that the city will spell out in detail the procedure for obtaining permission for such gatherings within three months.

Almost every opposition demonstration is in some way connected with well-known monuments, and in the city center, where opposition rallies are held, almost every building is a historical monument, Yabloko Deputy Yevgeny Bunimovich said after Wednesday's session.

Most recently, opposition groups protested against City Hall policies on a myriad of issues last Saturday with demonstrations near Karl Marx and Alexander Pushkin monuments in the heart of Moscow.

In the past, City Hall has cited a variety of concerns when banning rallies by opposition political parties and ultranationalist groups. Most often, the city has maintained that the organizers of large gatherings would be unable to ensure the safety of participants, or that the event would block access to roads and services.

Bunimovich said both the city and federal laws on public gatherings were directed specifically against the opposition.

"If the authorities really have this large public support that they are constantly talking of on TV, what are they so scared of?" Bunimovich said.

Marina Litvinovich, spokeswoman for the United Civil Front opposition movement, headed by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, said the bill was clearly aimed at tightening restrictions "at a time when the opposition is waking up."

Alexander Averin, a spokesman for the unregistered National Bolshevik Party, said the bill was an attempt to crack down on dissent ahead of State Duma elections in December and the presidential election in March.

In the bill's first reading in February, opposition deputies were outraged over a provision stating that city authorities must be notified of any public gathering.

Bunimovich said that provision, which was dropped from the final version, would have effectively required even the organizers of parent-teacher meetings at schools to apply for a permit.

The bill also limits the number of participants in any outdoor gathering to two per square meter and specifies that attendees at indoor gatherings must not outnumber available chairs at the venue.