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Constitutional Court judge criticises law on protest rallies

25 February 2013

Source:
HRO.org (info
Judge of the Constitutional Court Vladimir Yaroslavtsev has criticised the procedure by which amendments to the law on rallies were adopted. The amendments will make the law much tougher. In his dissenting opinion (his views have been published on the court website) Judge Yaroslavtsev writes that the law had not been approved by the regions, as a result of which it could be considered unconstitutional.

Judge Yaroslavtsev explains that after the first reading of the law, which took place on 22 May, State Duma deputies should have given the regions 30 days to comment on it. However, the second reading already took place on 5 June. Because the regions did not submit their findings on the document, it was impossible to "establish with certainty whether the decision taken reflected the real will of the legislator," Yaroslavtsev said.

According to Lenta.ru, Vladimir Yaroslavtsev also criticised the fact that the draft law underwent significant changes before the second reading. "An analysis of the proposed amendments clearly shows that between the first and second readings not only was the bill renamed, but there was also a significant change in its concept, an expansion of the range of regulated relations, which led to a significant change in the constitutional right of citizens to freedom of assembly," the judge explains.

He concludes that the violations of the requirements pertaining to the reading of the draft law (which are designed to "search for the most appropriate regulatory decisions") in the final analysis "are evidence of the fact that the act is unconstitutional not only because of how it was adopted, but ultimately also because of its content." In voicing his opposition, Yaroslavtsev states that "with the adoption of these arbitrary and haphazard amendments the shortcomings of the law on rallies becomes ever more obvious." He quotes the Gospel of Matthew to illustrate his point: "No one patches an old garment with a piece of unshrunk cloth, because the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results."

The ruling by the Constitutional Court on the law on rallies was announced by chair of the Court Judge Valery Zorkin on 14 February 2013. The majority decision of the court's judges on the law, which had been contested by the leader of The Other Russia Eduard Limonov and the Communist Party together with A Just Russia, declared the ruling to be consistent with the Constitution. Nevertheless, the court declared the fines for breaking the rules for holding rallies (at least 10,000 roubles) to be too steep, and also said that formal violation of the procedure for organising or holding protests cannot be punished with compulsory community service.

The law on rallies was tightened in June 2012. The amendments were introduced by State Duma deputy Aleksandr Sidyakin from United Russia after clashes broke out between protesters and police in Bolotnaya Square on 6 May.

Judge Vladimir Yaroslavtsev, who has been a member of the Constitutional Court since 1994, first hit the headlines in 2009 after an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais, in which he criticised the judicial system in Russia. He called Russian judges "instruments in the service of the executive authorities." "The security services can do what they like, and the judges simply rubberstamp their decisions," he said. Yaroslavtsev was disciplined for violating judicial ethics as a consequence.
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