Staunton, March 23 – In a development that reflects efforts by regional officials to be more Orthodox than the patriarch but one that threatens Vladimir Putin’s power vertical and the country’s common legal space, some regional governments are restricting demonstrations even more harshly than the constitution allows and than Moscow wants to permit.
According to Yekterina Trifonova of Nezavisimaya gazeta, legal specialists in the KPRF have called on the justice ministry to examine the situation and ensure the constitution is obeyed, something the Russian justice ministry may be willing to do either to give the center new levers over regional officials or to make itself look good (ng.ru/politics/2019-03-21/3_7537_opposition.html).
At the very least, this will give Moscow yet another way to keep regional officials in line by threatening them with legal action for exceeding their mandates while giving the impression that authorities in the center are actually concerned about defending the constitution rather than being its chief violators.
The KPRF lawyers are especially concerned by restrictions on individual protests that some regions like Kirov oblast have introduced, something the Russian Constitution guarantees and that Moscow practice typically allows, but they say that “illegal methods of the struggle with public protest are encountered everywhere.”
Vadim Solovyev, a KPRF lawyer, argues that “local laws cannot worsen the position of citizens compared with what is written in federal legislation which is also draconian,” but unfortunately, he continues, there are flagrant examples of such excesses in Tver, Kemerovo, Saratov and Tomsk oblasts among others.
The KPRF complaint reflects its own experiences, of course, but Ilya Shablinsky, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council says that the problem it highlights “really exists.” Such “legal creativity” at the regional level works against other groups as well and must be reined in.
According to Shablinsky, “the Supreme Court must clearly explain to subordinate courts that individual pickets don’t require official permission, and the justice ministry in turn must issue an order to its regional office to ensure that federal law is given priority over regional ones.”