Russia’s lower parliament overwhelmingly passed a controversial new bill which severely reduces the punishments for several forms of domestic abuse, according to a Friday report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The proposed legislation would reduce battery inflicted on family members by first-time offenders to an administrative misdemeanor. Such crimes are usually punishable with a simple fine, community service or 15 days in jail.
The Duma passed the bill by a vote of 380-3, sending it to Russia’s upper house of parliament for another vote before it will be presumably signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
Ultraconservative Duma member Yelena Mizulina, a keen backer of the legislation, argued that it prevents the government from interfering in family matters. Other supporters claimed that the current penalties are part of a “Western program … aimed to destroy our families.”
Conservative Duma members like Mizulina hope that the new legislation will counter the “outrageous” law passed in July, 2016, which decriminalized first-time battery offenses except in cases when they are committed against “close relatives.”
“For a slap in the family you can get up to two years [in prison] and the label ‘criminal’ for the rest of your life, but for battery on the street — a fine of up to 40,000 rubles ($665),” said Mizulina. “This situation is unacceptable. It is necessary to correct criminal legislation and remove these absurd provisions.”
Mizulina praised the passage of the legislation on her blog Friday, claiming the bill “removes antifamily norms” and “corrects the injustice” of the 2016 law.
Family-oriented human rights groups and activists are outraged by the passage of the new legislation. Protests outside the Duma were staged Friday in response. Russian activist Anna Popova collected 240,000 signatures in an online petition against the legislation. She claimed that approximately 40 percent of violent crimes occur within the family in Russia.
The Russian Ministry of the Interior estimates 600,000 Russian women are victims of domestic violence each year, 14,000 of which die from injuries associated with these crimes. Those who survive are often dismissed by authorities and live a life of poverty when they leave their spouses.
“It’s been a nightmare, but a silent one,” a victim named Anya told the BBC in a 2013 interview, recounting that she attempted to alert authorities to the problem, but to no avail.
“The police don’t want to deal with it. Once, a policewoman came in and said: ‘Why don’t you just run away like I did?’ So even policewomen have to deal with this,” explained Anya.
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