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Meeting with United Russia party leaders

May 23, 2012, Novo-Ogaryovo, Moscow Region

Issues discussed at the meeting included ways to improve legislation on rallies and demonstrations and responsibility for violations in organising and conducting such events.

Chairman of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights Mikhail Fedotov also took part in the meeting.

The party leaders presented to the President their list of candidates for the post of regional head in the Republic of Karelia, Irkutsk Region and Sverdlovsk Region.

* * *

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Colleagues,

We are meeting today to discuss some personnel matters, but I propose that we broaden the agenda a little. Mr Fedotov has expressed some concerns regarding United Russia’s initiative to make amendments to the Administrative Offences Code. Let’s start with this matter, and then turn to the personnel proposals.

Mr Fedotov went to the media with his concerns. Mr Fedotov, you are a presidential adviser and can come directly to us with your concerns. I see that some in the Government have already begun appealing through the media to the country’s leaders, but there is no need for this when you can discuss any issues or problems directly with us.

I propose that we first listen to Mr Fedotov’s concerns and then hear our colleagues’ responses, let them set out their position, and then we can decide on what to do from here. 

Chairman of The PRESIDENTIAL COUNCIL FOR CIVIL SOCIETY AND HUMAN RIGHTS MIKHAIL FEDOTOV: Mr President, it is indeed the case that the media asked me to comment, Interfax asked me to comment on the amended Administrative Offences Code passed in the first reading, and I said that I have some concerns about it.

Today, I read very attentively the State Duma’s resolution on the adoption of this draft law in the first reading and realised that the Duma has decided to change it radically, and they have now done exactly what I was talking about. 

The presidential instruction of May 7 asked the Government to draft proposals on improving the legislation on rallies and meetings and on administrative liability in order to bolster human rights and civil liberties. In this respect it would be the proper thing to reinforce the laws on administrative liability, but at the same time, we need to improve the laws on meetings and demonstrations themselves and make their provisions more democratic. 

If we want to channel street activism into discussion and dialogue, we first need to broaden the channel itself. I think it very important to balance tougher provisions on liability with more democratic provisions on rallies and meetings themselves, and then everything will be alright.

In this respect I was very pleased to see that the State Duma resolution states clearly that a special provision defining amendments to the law on rallies and meetings must be added to the draft law. I agreed today with Mr Pligin that we will work on the draft law together. It was the media that was busy shouting that Fedotov demands that President Putin veto it. 

I explained to them, said to them, “Look, my friends, President Putin cannot veto a law that has not yet been passed by both houses of parliament. This is simply not possible.” And so I think we need to keep working on the draft law and make it more democratic. If we do this, once both houses of parliament pass it we will all be able to say that we are perfectly happy with it. If this does not happen, then the Council will ask you to veto this law.

Vladimir Putin: Understood. So, your colleagues in the Duma have heard your concerns and are willing overall to work together. 

Mikhail Fedotov: I think they have heard the concerns expressed not only by the Council but by many others too.

Vladimir Putin: In any case, this joint work has started, the process has begun. 

Mikhail Fedotov: Yes, the process has begun.

Vladimir Putin: Let’s then ask our colleagues from United Russia to comment on both their initiative and the arguments that form the basis of this initiative, and, actually, the basis of the subject matter itself.

Deputy Speaker of the State Duma and Member of United Russia’S Supreme Council Board andrei VorobyEV: Mr President, rallies, meetings, demonstrations, pickets and suchlike are an integral part of our public and political life, as in all free and democratic countries.

Regarding the organisation of events of this kind, the provisions are straightforward: you make a request, three days in advance if it is for a picket, 7–10 days if it is for a larger-scale event. Once you receive the official approval, you can then hold your demonstration or rally.

The problem is that we have no clear provisions regarding liability with regard to such events. We decided to study other countries’ practice, looked at the laws in the USA, Britain, France, Sweden, and Switzerland. In particular, you recall the events in Britain a year ago, when riots took place in which a huge number of people suffered. We studied all of that very attentively. We then discussed all of this in the State Duma Council and agreed that the draft law would be passed in complete openness, through a process of discussion. Tomorrow we will therefore hold an open tribune in the Duma, during which all who wish to do so will be able to voice their opinions. Experts, or anyone wanting to take part in open discussion of this issue will be able to do so, and the media will be present, of course. We will continue this work until the second reading. There is no haste and no one is hurrying anyone along. We expect to be ready for the second reading in June, and will then adopt the various amendments that come out of the discussion process now underway.

We do not as yet have any legal provisions regulating the liability of events’ organisers and those who take part in them.

Vladimir Putin: What kind of liability do other countries have?

Andrei Vorobyev: In France and Germany, people can be held liable if they cover faces with scarves or masks, hide stones on their person, carry bottles, or are in a drunken state. The penalties are tough – a fine of up to 10,000–15,000 euros, and up to 100,000 Swiss francs in Switzerland. The law also allows for such offenders to be detained.

Deputy Speaker of the State Duma and Member of United Russia’S Supreme Council Board Sergei Neverov: The laws provide for criminal liability.

Andrei Vorobyev: Our draft law is somewhat more humane in a sense. The courts can decide to detain you for 10–15 days or sentence you to community service if you commit an offence of this kind. This is perfectly in keeping with world standards. Seeing as rallies, meetings and the like are becoming a regular occurrence around the world today, we too must bring our laws into line with this situation in order to ensure public safety and make sure that these events take place in civilised fashion. This is the logic behind our draft law. It is directly intended to answer today’s needs.

Sergei Neverov: Mr President, the main strategic concept underlying the draft law is that freedom must not infringe on other people’s rights, and must not create a threat to public safety, as in the case when events can go beyond the bounds of what was planned and spiral into situations of the kind a year ago in Britain that Mr Vorobyev mentioned just before.

”We do indeed need to improve the legislation. Our basic position is that any amendments and innovations here should strengthen the democratic nature of our state and society.“

We need laws that regulate all of these things, make everyone’s rights and actions clear, and are not purely repressive in nature. 

Vladimir Putin: Good. We can agree then that we do indeed need to improve the legislation, and we also need to take the best world practice as a reference here. We do this when drafting the laws that regulate our economy, and it is probably just as good an idea to refer to world practice in this case too. Our basic position is that any amendments and innovations here should strengthen the democratic nature of our state and society. Of course, we also need to protect people from radical and extreme manifestations, and the country and society have a right to protect themselves from such things. 

But whatever the case, these need to be balanced decisions. I ask you to continue the dialogue as you proposed – in public fashion, with all of the different participants. I hope that this will ultimately produce a balanced decision.

Mikhail Fedotov: Mr President, perhaps we could then agree with the parliamentary representatives on moving the deadline for making amendments back a bit. The current deadline is May 29, but this leaves us with very little time.

Vladimir Putin: I do not want to intervene in parliamentary procedures. You can settle this with your colleagues. For my part, it makes no difference whether it is sooner or later, the main thing is that we end up with a law of high quality.

CHAIRWOMAN OF IRKUTSK REGION LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY AND MEMBER OF UNITED RUSSIA’S IRKUTSK BRANCH POLITICAL COUNCIL PRESIDIUM LYUDMILA BERLINA: Mr President, any draft law today has to go through some kind of expert evaluation to look at its regulatory impact. This law needs to be examined with regard to three groups of the population: the people who organise mass events; the people who attend these events; and people who are just going about their lives and are neither organisers of nor participants in such events. Democracy’s development in Russia must protect each of these three groups, who are either participants in or witnesses to such events.

It is important that the draft law sets out strict rules, because, once they are settled, we will all have to obey them. This is part of the constitutional principle of protecting every individual’s rights and freedoms. At the same time, the draft law also proposes provisions regulating the actions of the officials examining requests to hold meetings, demonstrations and other mass public events. The current legislation does not contain provisions on this liability. The draft law contains provisions prohibiting officials from hindering or acting arbitrarily to regulate public initiatives. I think that we need to carry out an evaluation, carry out an expert evaluation. There can be no question of infringing on other people’s rights. We must protect people’s lives. We have already seen from world experience that these kinds of mass public events can also give rise to threats.

Vladimir Putin: We have agreed on how we will go on working, right? Thank you.

May 23, 2012, Novo-Ogaryovo, Moscow Region