[JURIST] Russian police on Tuesday arrested more than 20 people who were protesting a new bill that was introduced to the State Duma [official website, in Russian], the lower house of parliament, for a final vote. The proposed bill would raise the maximum fines [LAT report] for participating in an unsanctioned rally from 2,000 rubles (USD $60) to 300,000 rubles ($9,000) meaning a 150-fold increase. For public officials the fine would be 600,000 rubles ($18,000). The Kremlin party, or United Russia [party website, in Russian], which currently has the majority in the lower house proposed the law in advance of a planned opposition protest on June 12. Because United Russia has 238 seats in State Duma out of 450, it is expected that the bill will be approved by the lower house. Additionally, although the bill has to go through the upper house and be signed by President Vladimir Putin [official website], it is expected that the bill will become law in the near future.
The controversial bill was preliminary approved [JURIST report] in May by State Duma by a vote of 236-207 on the first reading. Putin has supported the new bill. Russia has been criticized for violating citizens' right to free expression. Earlier this month prominent Russian gay rights activist Nikolai Alekeyev, who was arrested in April, became the first to be convicted under a St. Petersburg city ordinance that prohibits the spreading "homosexual propaganda" to minors.