Over the summer, regional authorities gradually eased up on restrictions related to the pandemic. However, there has been even more regions, where public actions and events were completely banned due to the coronavirus, by September than at the end of March. This is stated in the report of the OVD-Info Human Rights Media Project. The authors of the report concluded that sometimes bans were aimed more at suppressing freedom of speech than at coronavirus prevention.
Restrictions on public events remain in 35 regions. Any public events including one-person pickets are prohibited in 26 of them (including Moscow and St. Petersburg). In some cases, only the number of participants (up to 50 - in Kaluga Oblast and Karelia, up to 250 — in Smolensk Oblast), the formats of actions (in Pskov Oblast, one-person pickets have been allowed since August 14, and any event involving less than 30 people — since August 25), the venue is limited or the procedure of coordination is complicated. In several regions, bans are represented as recommendations, which may lead to refusal of coordination (in Kursk Oblast, chief magistrates are urged to cancel mass events).
All events are restricted in other 36 regions, public events are not mentioned though, but may be implied hypothetically. In 24 of them, the ban extends to events with any number of participants. The authors of the report found no restrictions or additional requirements for events in only 14 regions including Kostroma and Novgorod Oblasts and the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug - Yugra.
OVD-Info found out that restrictions were often imposed without their duration being specified. Only 15 of the 71 regions, where there are explicit or potential restrictions on actions, have their finish date specified in regulations.
“It is too early to talk about easing up on quarantine restrictions on public events for Russia as a whole. At a rough estimate, there are even more regions, where public events are absolutely prohibited by the beginning of September, than at the end of March,” says the report.
However, quarantine restrictions are ignored in some cases. For example, in Tambov, officials allowed holding campaign events in August. The City Hall of Belgorod did not allow residents to hold a rally in support of the protesters in Khabarovsk due to the pandemic, but coordinated mass events dedicated to the City Day and the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. According to OVD-Info, this runs counter to the desire to prevent the contagion and indicates the use of the epidemic as a reason to restrict freedom of expression. In Pskov Oblast, police officers drew up several protocols for one-person pickets in the summer, and local officials allowed holding memorial event "Kurgan Druzhby" (‘Barrow of Friendship’) despite the pandemic and participated in it themselves.
The researchers noted that there was no integrated practice of introducing and updating "coronavirus" rules in the regions. Because of this, sometimes it is not clear how to fulfill the enforced demands. In particular, new rules do not always take existing ones into account and contravene them. So, Yevgeny Pavlov from Nizhnevartovsk held a one-person picket in support of the protesters in Khabarovsk on August 13. The police drew up an administrative report on him for not wearing a mask during the pandemic. Although, according to the federal law, you must not hide your face during a picket. And in Kurgan, the police drew up a report on Alexei Shvarts for the fact that he, on the contrary, had held a one-person picket wearing a mask. In that case, the police referred to the federal law.
“The main problem is confusing the concept of public events with the concept of mass events: public events are sometimes listed along with mass events, then described as a type of mass events. The status of one-person pickets is often unclear. Uncertainty itself seems to be a restriction: it gives the authorities an extra reason to stop actions or prohibit them at the negotiation stage and also has a preventing effect for potential demonstrators,” says the report.