Russia to freeze accounts used to fund protests: HRW
Russia is preparing legislation to enable the authorities to freeze bank accounts used to donate to protests that are deemed unlawful, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The US-based NGO said the law would further jeopardise freedom of assembly and could punish Russians for supporting numerous democratic causes.
The provision is one of many measures being considered in legislation to prevent the financing of terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking and money laundering.
It could place the financing of unregistered protests into the same category as serious criminal activity, HRW said.
“The provision on financing public assemblies should be immediately dropped from the bill,” said Damelya Aitkhozhina of the lobby group. “Russia has already adopted a slew of laws that unjustly punish protesters, and this bill would enable the government even to target and intimidate someone who paid for some flyers or protest signs.”
The bill is being drafted by Rosfinmonitoring, the Russian financial monitoring service, which says it tracks money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
HRW said the legislation would allow the authorities to issue orders without court authorisation to freeze bank accounts or transactions for up to 10 days with “sufficient, verified and documented information” of funding of unregistered public assemblies.
“This means that almost any assembly could fall afoul of the law if the authorities decide the organisers have not complied with procedures or that participants have acted improperly,” the NGO said.
The bill does not detail any procedures for those affected to challenge the action and does not specify if the frozen funds would be released after 10 days, HRW added. Courts would be able to allow limited monthly withdrawals from a frozen account of just US$160.
Existing laws on public assemblies require protesters to seek authorisation for protests, enabling the authorities to deny authorisation on many reasons.
Protests in Ingushetia
Yesterday it was reported that at least two opposition leaders in Russia’s Republic of Ingushetia (pictured) had been arrested on charges of attacking police shortly after being released from detention following protests.
Thousands took to the streets in Ingushetia last month over a land swap deal signed last year with the neighbouring Chechnya. At least three organisers of the unauthorised protests — Akhmed Barakhoyev, Musa Malsagov and Barakh Chemurziyev — have each spent 10 days in jail.
Instead of being released, however, Malsagov and Chemurziyev have been detained again on suspicion of using force against the authorities and calling for riots, according to the Caucasian Knot news agency.
Ingushetian watchtowers. Picture credit: Wikimedia