Russian opposition supporters defy protest ban, march on Moscow

MOSCOW: Chanting “This is our city”, Russian opposition supporters marched in central Moscow Saturday in defiance of a protest ban, just a week before controversial elections in the capital.

Under theful eye of police, hundreds participated in the so-called “March against political repressions”, shouting out demands including: “Freedom to political prisoners!”.

Moscow police said turnout was about 750, while Russian media gave a figure of several thousand people.

Demonstrations have been held almost weekly since July after authorities barred most opposition candidates from registering for elections next Sunday for the city parliament.

Moscow prosecutors warned the latest rally, called by Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, was not authorised and participants would “bear responsibility.” Saturday’s gathering was noticeably calmer than previous ones where police had made thousands of sometimes violent arrests.

None were reported this time around, with police merely advising people to leave the street and keep to pedestrian zones.

Criticised for their actions in recent weeks, police did not intervene on Saturday.

“I want political rights of Muscovites to be respected,” said march organiser Lyubov Sobol, whose bid to run in the election was rejected.

“We’re a peaceful march, we even wait for the green light to cross the street. We’re the most law-abiding citizens of Moscow,” she said, walking with a crowd of supporters.

Opposition politicians had requested formal permission for Saturday’s march but were turned down.

The marching crowd also included women’s rights activists who held up a giant pink banner against domestic violence.

In the past, the Moscow polls have generated little public interest. But this summer they have sparked the biggest political crisis since a wave of protests in 2011-2012 against Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin.

The biggest rally on August 10 gathered over 50,000 people. Authorities have launched a wide-ranging probe into “unrest” which could lead to long prison sentences, and have made thousands of arrests.

A probe has also launched into Navalny’s anti-corruon foundation, which has produced numerous videos alleging graft among officials at City Hall run by Putin’s ally, mayor Sergei Sobyanin.

Several individuals who wished to stand as candidates in the election were told that the supporting signatures they had gathered were invalid, with Putin alleging they were “falsifications.”

“Election committees found that their (signature lists had…people who had died long ago,” he said last week.

But opposition politicians such as Ilya Yashin accuse Putin of lying.

Yashin appealed this week to the Russian Supreme Court to have his candidacy reinstated, but lost and was detained the following day — the fifth time since July — for violating rules on public gatherings.

Sobol, an associate of Navalny, was assaulted near her home Thursday.

According to OVD Info, an independent monitor of arrests and other suspected persecution, police detained some 2,700 people at demonstrations this summer.

In addition, multiple criminal cases are pending against protest participants on charges such as “mass unrest” and “violence against police.”

At least two couples who took their children to marches have been threatened with losing parental rights.

Some Moscow businesses and services, including the public transportation department, have sued protesters for a combined sum of over 14 million rubles (USD 200,000.