AFP – Russian police detained several opposition leaders, including Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov, during a protest held in Moscow Saturday against the latest wave of arrests of political activists.
Police claimed the detained activists violated public order after about 200 people gathered around the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB) with signs protesting political repression against the opposition, including allegations of torture by one activist.
Anti-corruption campaigner Navalny, Left Front movement leader Udaltsov, and fellow opposition leader Ilya Yashin tweeted from the police station, where they were taken together with several other protesters.
“I was walking on the sidewalk. They detained me without any explanation,” Udaltsov, one of the prominent organisers of mass protests against President Vladimir Putin, said on his Twitter account.
“Alexei Navalny has been detained,” Navalny’s spokeswoman Anna Veduta said on Twitter. “People have blocked the road shouting ‘SHAME’.”
The demonstrators, carrying banners declaring “I am against torture and repression,” spread out from the FSB building to stand along the sidewalks, trying to make use of a Russian law allowing an individual to protest alone without permission from the authorities.
Some later proceeded on an informal march towards the headquarters of the Russian Investigative Committee, which in recent days has charged Udaltsov and two other opposition activists with preparing mass riots.
Moscow police said that all three detained leaders would face administrative charges for violating public order. A City Hall security official praised the police for their actions, saying the protest was unsanctioned.
The picketing was called following the arrest and charging of activist Leonid Razvozzhayev, who had told rights campaigners last Tuesday that masked men kidnapped him the week before from Kiev, where he was applying for refugee status.
He said he was later smuggled into Russia and held in a cellar, where the men terrorised and threatened him for several days until he agreed to cooperate, after which he was handed over to Russian investigators to pen a confession.
Razvozzhayev, along with Udaltsov and Udaltsov’s assistant Konstantin Lebedev have been charged with plotting mass riots after a smear documentary aired on a pro-Kremlin television channel claimed the trio wanted to overthrow Putin.
Lebedev and Razvozzhayev are currently in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, while Udaltsov has so far been allowed most of his freedoms although he faces travel restrictions.
Alexei Navalny was also charged in July in a separate embezzlement probe that could potentially have him jailed for up to 10 years. Navalny has dismissed his charges as “absurd”.
Russia has over the past few months targeted many protest activists in various probes, with 13 people behind bars and awaiting trial on charges of alleged disorder at a massive rally on May 6, one day before Vladimir Putin was inaugurated for his third Kremlin term.