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Russia lawmakers pass controversial protest legislation

Both houses of the Russian parliament have passed a controversial bill that increases the maximum fine for protestors who violate demonstration regulations. The lower house, or State Duma [official website, in Russian], passed the bill [press release, in Russian] late Tuesday night on its third reading amid protests that the law was too harsh. The Federation Council [official website, in Russian], the parliament's upper house, passed the bill [press release, in Russian] on Wednesday morning with little opposition. It will now proceed to President Vladimir Putin [official website] for final approval. The proposed bill would raise the maximum fines [JURIST 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.

The controversial bill received preliminary approval [JURIST report] from the State Duma in May 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.

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