Police in Moscow said they arrested more than 1,000 people on Saturday during an unauthorised rally to demand fair upcoming elections in Russia’s capital city. Around 3,500 people took to the streets, according to media reports, in a demonstration which lasted more than seven hours.
In all, “1,074 people have been arrested for a variety of offences during an unauthorised demonstration in the centre of the capital,” Moscow police were quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
Demonstrators were protesting a decision by Moscow’s electoral authorities to keep several opposition members off the ballot for a city council election in September. The opposition candidates allegedly used fake signatures on their nominating petitions.
Protesters in #Moscow keep walking through the centre in groups, shouting for the city’s mayor to resign and for the opposition candidates to be registered for the city parliament elex. “We are the power here!” and “Honest elections!” they shout. Over 400 have been arrested. pic.twitter.com/vzjH9PgCu5
— Emily Sherwin (@EmilyCSherwin) July 27, 2019
Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition activist, had called for people to attend the rally. He was jailed for 30 days on Wednesday for organising “unauthorised” demonstrations.
Officials in the Russian capital have declared the demonstration illegal. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobaynin said the protests were a “security threat” and vowed that “order will be ensured according to the law.”
Two of Navalny’s associates, Ivan Zhdanov and Ilya Yashin, said they had been detained ahead of the demonstration.
Protests to continue
Navalny has said protests will continue until the city allows the rejected candidates to run in the election.
One protester told a DW correspondent on Saturday that the demonstrations in Moscow reflected larger discontent in Russia.
“Moscow is a reflection of Russia. If things were really bad in Moscow, and things were amazing in the rest of the country, that would be a different thing. But it’s the same everywhere. If I lived in St. Petersburg or Kazan or in Novgorod I would also be out protesting.”
‘Russia’s future at stake’
Investigators reportedly raided the homes and headquarters of several disqualified candidates in the run-up to the protest.
Dmitry Gudkov, a disqualified opposition candidate, told the AFP news agency that Russia’s future was at stake.
“If we lose now, elections will cease to exist as a political instrument,” said Gudkov, whose home was raided Wednesday.
“What we’re talking about is whether it’s legal to participate in politics today in Russia, we’re talking about the country we’re going to live in.”
Last weekend, 22,000 people attended a protest in Moscow to protest the ban on opposition candidates, the largest such demonstration in years.
Another protester spoke with DW in Moscow on Saturday and said that demonstrations could mark the beginning of a larger movement.
“You have to start with something. You can’t just not be interested. If we don’t start with these local Moscow elections, then what should we start with? We have to start with one city. Russia is big and I hope people will see us and understand that you can’t live like this.”
The opposition sees the local elections as an opportunity for political participation, as anti-Kremlin parties have been steadily marginalised in Russian politics since President Vladimir Putin first took office 20 years ago.
Another demonstrator in Moscow told DW that demonstrations like the one on Saturday would make it clear that independent parties in Russia have a lot of support, and deserve political representation.
“They count everyone here. And that is why it is worth coming here, to be counted,” he said. “Those individuals make up a total number, and that can push the authorities to change their behaviour.”
Kremlin-backed candidates have proven less popular in the capital than in other parts of Russia. However, independent parties say they face many bureaucratic hurdles in running for office compared to pro-Kremlin candidates.