After signing a bill that hikes the fine for joining an unauthorized protest to 300,000 rubles ($9,000), Russian President Vladimir Putin compared the measure to similar laws in Germany, Spain, Britain and France.
"In our law there is not a single clause that is harsher than the measures envisaged by similar laws in (those) countries," Putin said in televised remarks Friday.
Well, not exactly, Mr. President.
The law on illegal public gatherings in Germany states that participation can incur a fine of up to some $640, but it is rarely used. The version available on the Justice Ministry's website lists the fine in marks, a currency that hasn't been used in a decade.
It also mentions a possible prison term of up to one year and unspecified fines for making public calls to take part in a gathering that has been banned or ordered broken up, but the law does not mention political demonstrations. In any case, it is relatively rare for demonstrations to be banned.
In Spain, demonstrations can be prevented from getting authorization if a judge thinks they will praise terrorism. Penalties for holding an unsanctioned rally are generally decided by regional judges.
British protesters can also be fined if they participate in an unauthorized demonstration. Still, the maximum penalty _ 1,000 pounds (about $1,500) _ is a mere fraction of Russia's new sanction, and U.K. courts typically impose far lighter punishments _ 50 or 100 pounds _ or waive the fines altogether.
"The courts have been quite lenient," said attorney Raj Chada, whose London-based law firm Hodge Jones & Allen is involved in civil liberties cases. He added that sometimes court costs can outpace the fines, "particularly if the defendants fight it."
Fines for organizing an unauthorized demonstration can reach 2,500 pounds.
In France, participants can get up to a year in prison for an unauthorized gathering that risks disturbing public order or even up to a 15,000 euro ($18,680) fine if the gathering does not disperse after two warnings.
If participants hide their faces, they could face up to three years in prison and a 45,000 euro ($56,040) fine. The fine could be higher if a participant is armed.
However, the French laws are very rarely enforced.
Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin, Raphael Satter in London, Harold Heckle in Madrid, and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report