By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian lawmakers approved draft legislation that would make it a jailable offense to call on teenagers to attend unauthorized street protests, a move Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Tuesday was designed to frustrate his own activity.
Navalny, a 42-year-old lawyer who says he wants to succeed Vladimir Putin as president, has tried to win the support of a young demographic, including teenagers, some of whom have attended his nationwide anti-Kremlin protests.
Police have sometimes dispersed his rallies using force and jailed hundreds of attendees, including teenagers, whose presence has drawn sharp criticism from the Kremlin which has accused Navalny of manipulating minors for political gain.
The new legislation proposes introducing fines of up to 50,000 rubles ($750) or a jail sentence of up to 15 days for anyone calling on people aged under 18 to attend unauthorized protests. Companies or organizations that encourage minors to attend could be fined up to 500,000 rubles under the new law.
Opposition activists who want to protest already face an array of restrictions, including a requirement to seek the authorities’ advance approval for the time and place of any rally. Authorities often flatly decline such requests for technical reasons or propose alternative venues in remote locations far from the public eye.
Navalny wrote on Twitter that the draft bill showed how the authorities were moving to give themselves a new lever to hamstring his opposition activity.
“They passed the law especially for me, but it’s them that should be jailed for it,” he wrote.
The bill was approved in its third and final reading on Tuesday. It must be approved by the upper house of parliament before it is signed into law by President Putin, something that is normally a formality.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)