NEW YORK—A new law establishing penalties for people deemed to have involved minors in unauthorized protests and demonstrations poses a serious threat to freedom of assembly in Russia, PEN America said today.

On December 28, President Putin signed a law establishing criminal penalties for people deemed by courts to have involved minors in unauthorized protests, rallies, and demonstrations. According to the legislation, organizers of unsanctioned public gatherings in which people under 18 participate will face up to 15 days in jail and a fine of up to 50,000 rubles ($720). Officials will face fines of up to 100,000 rubles ($1,440) for the same offense, and organizations up to 500,000 rubles ($7,200). The law is broadly worded, with unclear mechanisms of proving that a young person was really involved at the urging of another person or organization and had not decided to join the rally of their own volition.

“This law is just a new tool for discouraging and punishing those who would organize protests and demonstrations in Russia,” said PEN America Eurasia Project Director Polina Kovaleva. “The organizer of any demonstration involving a minor could ostensibly be targeted under the legislation, even if they had not deliberately recruited young people to participate, and in theory anyone who even encourages others to join a rally, for example, through social media, could also be targeted. As written, it poses a serious threat to freedom of assembly in Russia and serves merely as a pretext to prosecute the organizers and supporters of protest actions.”

In recent years, there have been a number of arrests of people peacefully participating in protests in Russia, even if they did not behave unlawfully. The authorities have rejected a high number of requests to hold public assemblies involving small numbers of participants and even of single-person demonstrations. According to the OVD-Info, 158 minors were detained during the anti-Putin rallies organized on May 5, 2018 across Russia by opposition politician and anticorruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny. PEN America regularly advocates on cases of persecution of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Russia, including recent crackdowns on youth and pop culture.     

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