Russian opposition leader Lyubov Sobol said she’d been detained by police as tens of thousands protested against the exclusion of anti-Kremlin candidates from Moscow city council elections.
“They won’t succeed in frightening us, they won’t be able to stop us demanding our electoral rights,” said Sobol, a lawyer who’s been on hunger strike for nearly a month in protest against the rejection of her candidacy, in a video posted on Twitter Saturday as armed and masked police broke into her election office. “It won’t stop us going out to protests because we will keep doing it for as long as the authorities won’t listen to Muscovites.”
Almost 50,000 people attended Saturday’s protest, which had been agreed with the authorities, the White Counter crowd-monitoring organization said on Facebook. Police said 20,000 took part, the Interfax news service reported. Organizers had sought permission for as many as 100,000 to attend.
Sobol was later bundled into a van by police and driven away. She was practically the last major opposition figure still at liberty amid the harshest state crackdown on dissent since Vladimir Putin suppressed months of protests against his return to the Kremlin as president in 2012 after four years as prime minister. Most of the other leaders were given jail terms after riot police beat and detained protesters in the largest numbers for years at unsanctioned meetings held in the capital on each of the past two weekends. More than 20,000 people attended an authorized demonstration in Moscow last month.
Riot police blocked off parts of the city center after the demonstration ended and detained at least 106 people, according to the OVD Info monitoring group. Another 78 were detained by police at a protest in St. Petersburg, it said.
Sobol is one of the leaders of the protest movement that erupted after officials last month refused to register opposition and independent candidates for September’s elections, saying they failed to gather the required number of signatures from supporters. Opposition leaders insisted they had met the threshold and accused the Kremlin of seeking to crush any challenge amid a slide in Putin’s popularity among Russians after a slump in living standards over the past five years.
Armed police also entered an internet TV studio used by supporters of opposition leader Alexey Navalny on Saturday and detained 10 staff and volunteers, according to a post on his Twitter account. Navalny himself is in prison after being jailed for 30 days last month for urging supporters to join an unsanctioned protest.
Investigators have also targeted Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation as part of efforts to dismantle the revived opposition movement, alleging that unnamed employees laundered about 1 billion rubles ($15 million). The investigation came as at least 10 people arrested at the peaceful rallies face mass unrest charges that could see them jailed for up to 15 years.