Hundreds of protesters have been detained in Russia as police try to stop nationwide protests in support of jailed activist Alexei Navalny.
Alexei Navalny’s wife, Yulia, said she had been detained at a protest in the capital Moscow, where officers were breaking up the demonstrations.
Thousands of people have already taken part in rallies in Russia’s Far East.
Alexei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile critic, called for protests after his arrest last weekend.
The opposition leader was detained on January 17 after he flew back to Moscow from Berlin, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal nerve agent attack in Russia last August.
On his return, Alexei Navalny was immediately taken into custody and found guilty of violating parole conditions. He says it is a trumped-up case designed to silence him, and called on his supporters to protest.
Several of Navalny’s close aides, including a spokeswoman, have also been detained in the run up to January 23 protests.
Prior to the rallies, Russian authorities had promised a tough crackdown, with police saying any unauthorized demonstrations and provocations would be “immediately suppressed”.
OVD Info, an independent NGO that monitors rallies, said that more than 800 people had been detained so far in protests across the country.
Thousands are currently attending a protest in Moscow’s central Pushkin Square, where police have erected metal barriers to deter demonstrators.
Russia’s interior ministry said 4,000 had turned up in Moscow, but opposition sources say it may be as high as 15,000.
One witness told Reuters at least 100 people may have been detained there already.
Among them is Lyubov Sobol, a prominent aide of Alexei Navalny who had already been fined for urging Russians to join the protests. Lyubov Sobol tweeted a video of police roughly pulling her away from an interview with reporters.
Yulia Navalnya also said she was being held by police at the same protest, posting an image on her Instagram account with the caption: “Apologies for the poor quality. Very bad light in the police van.”
Several of Alexei Navalny’s key aides had already been taken into police custody in the days leading up to January 23 protests, including his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh.
Prominent Navalny activists are also being held in the cities of Krasnodar, Vladivostok and Novosibirsk.
Officers in riot gear had earlier
moved into Moscow and warned people not to protest. Russian news agency TASS
reported that one police officer had been injured while making an arrest.
However, protesters also reported
mistreatment at the hands of police.
Footage broadcast on Russian TV and
shared on social media showed police pin people to the ground, kicking or using
batons on them.
Alexander Svidersky, a member of a district electoral commission, said he
was arrested while out with his dog, which he managed to pass off to an
acquaintance before being bundled into a police van. OVD-Info reported he said
he was later taken out and hit around the kidneys before being dragged to
Detainees at one police station also told OVD-Info they were threatened with
having their fingers “cut off” if they did not allow their
fingerprints to be taken.
Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer and video blogger, is one of the candidates excluded
from the local elections. She has been on hunger strike for 21 days, and called
on others to join the unsanctioned protest on August 3.
She was in a taxi about to set off for the rally when police officers
dragged her into a black van.
Hours after Lyubov Sobol’s arrest, she tweeted from a police station, saying
she had spent three hours being driven “all over Moscow” by a dozen
Authorities said she was being held for violating regulations for street
Last month, Lyubov Sobol was dragged out of the electoral commission office
on a sofa.
Speaking to independent broadcaster Dozhd
before her detention, Lyubov Sobol said the authorities “are doing
everything they can to try to intimidate the opposition”.
She said: “That is why it is
important to come out today to show that Muscovites are not afraid of
provocation and they are ready to continue to stand up for their rights.”
Shortly afterwards, Russian officials announced an investigation into FBK
for alleged money laundering of a billion roubles ($15.3 millio) – though it
did not name any individuals.
The nation’s investigative committee said that funds had been knowingly
obtained through criminal means.
Authorities detained more than 1,000 demonstrators last weekend during a
demonstration, one of the biggest crackdowns in years.
Election authorities have barred opposition candidates from taking part in
Moscow city authority elections planned for September 8.
According to officials, many of the signatures required for their candidacy
applications were invalid. But protesters say they were excluded for political
Another protest held in solidarity in St Petersburg had some 1,000 attendees – but it had not been banned by local officials, and there are no reports of arrests.
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