Constitutional Court Bans Fines for Exceeding Projected Number of Rally Participants

Source: (info), 21/05/12

· Right of assembly   · The Courts

On 18 May the Russian Constitutional Court ruled that the fact that more demonstrators take part in a demonstration than had been planned cannot be grounds for the prosecution of the organizers. The larger number of protesters does not provide sufficient basis for prosecution.

Earlier Tula resident Sergei Katkov had asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the constitutionality of Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code and the Federal Law “On Rallies.” Both of these laws have been used to fine organizers of demonstrations for exceeding the projected number of demonstrators, says

“Exceeding the planned number of demonstrators is not sufficient grounds for prosecuting the organizers of the event,” the court said in its judgment. “That basis occurs only when the number of protesters poses a real threat to public order, to the participants themselves and/or to passers-by, or to the property of individuals or of legal persons.”

Furthermore, the Constitutional Court held that in order to prosecute an organizer it must be proven that they are directly responsible for the greater number of protesters. To avoid this, the organizers are asked to “carefully and thoughtfully think through the potential number of protesters,” taking into account the public significance of the event.

In this way, Interfax points out, the legal norm that allows the organizers of a demonstration to be prosecuted for exceeding the number of protesters “has been upheld as constitutional, although it has been given a specific interpretation in law.”

Sergei Katkov appealed to the Constitutional Court after he was fined in connection with a march on the Day of National Unity in November 2010. In the notification he presented about the forthcoming march, Katkov announced that 150 people would participate; in fact twice that number actually showed up. According to the Constitutional Court, the decision to fine Katkov should be reviewed.

In recent months, Russian courts have been fining both opposition and pro-government protest organizers for exceeding the number of protesters allowed. In February 2012, for example, the organizers of a march “For Fair Elections” on Bolshaia Yakimanka Street were fined one thousand roubles. In a gesture of “moral support,” Vladimir Putin contributed the same amount to the organizers of the “anti-orange” demonstration on Poklonnaia Hill in February who had also been fined.