The two point out that “from the point of view of Russian law, any spontaneous action is illegal if more than one person takes part in it. People must warn the organs of power in advance about their plans so that the authorities can provide security” and ensure that all necessary conditions are met.
Russian law speaks only about the need to inform the authorities, but in fact, Smirnova and Shedov say, it gives the authorities the power to block demonstrations for both justifiable and “absurd” reasons whenever they want to, a situation that is becoming worse as legislators impose ever harsher punishments on those who take part in “illegal” actions.
As a result, they continue, “the procedure of giving agreement has become a hidden instrument for the management of meetings and pickets by the organs of the authorities. And while remaining hidden, it defines” how or even whether any action will occur and what will happen to those who report about it or take part in it.
Their report documents hundreds of cases in which the authorities misread or misapply the requirements the law imposes on organizers to apply for approval in advance, showing how each of the nine requirements can be used by the powers that be to throw up obstacles to prevent demonstrations.
Some of these problems arise from gaps in the law, but most appear to arise from the powers of officials to ignore the law altogether when it suits their purposes, Smirnova and Shedov suggest. And the Meduza news agency underscores this with a list of “the strangest reasons” officials have invoked to block meetings ().
· “The slogans are not specific.”
· “Participants in the meeting would get in the way of trash collections.”
· “The meeting would interfere with water line work that began only three days after the application for a meeting was filed.”
· “The meeting is to be held where a demonstration on the 70th anniversary of Victory Day is to take place two months later.”
· “The meeting would interfere with fire drills.”
· “The meeting on Victory Square would interfere with snow collection on Karl Marx Square.”