Russian lawmakers have approved a legal amendment broadening the definition of extremist crime to include offences committed as a result of political motives. Public order offences will be punishable by eight years in prison if they are judged to have been committed for reasons of “political and ideological hatred”.
The move is being seen by some as a precaution ahead of parliamentary elections in December and a presidential poll next March to choose a successor to President Vladimir Putin.
Critics say the Kremlin is preparing a managed handover of power that will not be fully democratic due to restrictions placed on the media and opposition campaigners. Government officials have denied this and insist the country’s next leader will be democratically elected.
Opposition street protests are already becoming a regular occurrence in Russia’s main cities. But a number of these have been forcibly dispersed by police.