[JURIST] The Russian State Duma [official website, in Russian], the lower house of parliament, unanimously approved a bill on Wednesday that would hike the penalty for vandalizing property during political or ideological protests to a maximum of three years in prison. The bill was initially proposed in the wake of a December protest against President Vladimir Putin's rights record by by some 3000 demonstrators in Moscow which led to dozens of arrests. Wednesday's vote came on the heels of additional weekend protests in the Moscow and St. Petersburg in which more than 200 people were arrested [JURIST report], including former chess great and liberal United Civil Front [party website, in Russian] leader Garry Kasparov [personal website, in Russian].
Also on Wednesday, a Moscow City Court judge heard arguments on whether to grant the chief prosecutor's request to label the far-right National Bolshevik Party [party website] as an extremist organization. Prosecutors had previously requested the ban [JURIST report], which would entail a mandatory suspension of party activity, in March. Russia holds parliamentary elections in December and a presidential vote next March. AP has more.