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Russia’s parliament votes to decriminalise domestic violence

State Duma member Olga Batalina (C) at a Russian State Duma plenary meeting discussing a draft law decriminalizing some forms of domestic violence.
Anton Novoderezhkin | TASS | Getty Images
State Duma member Olga Batalina (C) at a Russian State Duma plenary meeting discussing a draft law decriminalizing some forms of domestic violence.

Russia's parliament voted overwhelmingly on Friday to decriminalise domestic violence, a move the Kremlin claims will help support families but critics say will only worsen the problem.

Members of the lower house of parliament voted 380-3 in favour of the bill's third reading after senior officials spoke in favour of the measure. The bill is expected to be approved by the rubber-stamp upper house before President Vladimir Putin signs it.

Vyacheslav Volodin, who became parliament speaker last year after five years running the Kremlin's domestic policy, said earlier this week that the measure would strengthen the conservative social values promoted by the government.

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"It's important to us that nobody interferes with families, that society appreciates these issues, and that the state creates conditions for building strong families," he said.

The bill's authors, led by Olga Batalina, Mr Volodin's protégé and former doctoral student, say their aim is to close a supposed loophole in a bill passed last summer that downgraded battery to a misdemeanour, but made domestic violence a criminal offence.

Ms Batalina said while debating the bill last week that she wanted lenience for battery "committed in an emotional conflict, without malice, without grave consequences".

"Battery doesn't even involve grave bodily harm," she said.

Conservatives led by Elena Mizulina, the firebrand senator who authored an infamous law against "gay propaganda" in 2013, were outraged at what they saw as the discrepancy in the law and mounted a campaign against it.

The push gained support from the Russian Orthodox Church, which said "loving parents" should be allowed to discipline children physically without fear of reprisal, but then died out after parliament sent back Ms Mizulina's draft bill.

Lawmakers abruptly revived the measure at the end of last year after Mr Putin said that existing domestic violence law "harms families".

Under the new bill, first-time assault of a close family member is a misdemeanour that carries a fine of up to Rbs30,000 ($500) or 15 days of community service. Repeat offenders face criminal charges only if further domestic violence is reported within the following year.

"The authorities only see positives in domestic violence. Many people don't live to retirement age, [and] people destroy each other instead of criticising the authorities." -Alyona Popova, Activist

Domestic violence affects about a quarter of all Russian families and accounts for 40 per cent of all violent crime, according to government statistics. As many as 9,000 women died in 2013 at the hands of their husbands or close relatives.

Nonetheless, 59 per cent of Russians support the bill, and 19 per cent think violence in the family setting can be acceptable, according to a survey by Kremlin-backed pollster VTSIOM this month. A popular expression goes: "If he beats you, it means he loves you."

"The authorities only see positives in domestic violence," tweeted Alyona Popova, an activist who collected more than 180,000 signatures against the bill. "Many people don't live to retirement age, [and] people destroy each other instead of criticising the authorities."