Protestors who have taken to the streets of Moscow on Saturday to demand the release of prominent activist Alexey Navalny have been confronted by law enforcement officers, apparently determined to break up the unsanctioned rally.

Hundreds of people have gathered to rally in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, in defiance of warnings that the demonstration was not authorized and would be dispersed. Police officers have started to detain participants, placing them in buses on Tverskaya Street, a major central thoroughfare. 

Navalny’s team has a long record of staging unsanctioned assemblies, claiming that the Russian law regulating public events is too restrictive to opposition movements. However, in this case, authorities also pointed out that mass gatherings are prohibited under regulations designed to control the Covid-19 pandemic.

Law enforcement used megaphones to instruct people to maintain social distancing and keep their masks on, rules which were disregarded by many of those who flocked to Pushkin Square. The crowd occasionally chanted “Shame” and “Freedom” as officers in riot gear took some activists and escorted them to police vehicles for detention.

Earlier in the day, similar protest events were organized in other Russian cities, including Khabarovsk, Vladivostok and Yakutsk, large cities in the Far East. Dozens of activists were reportedly detained by local law enforcement.

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In the days leading up to the march, Russian officials sought to remove online calls for people to join the rally, directed mostly at underage audiences. The Russian telecommunications regulator said it found that some social media platforms were spreading such messages and demanded that administrators take measures to stop them. The office of the prosecutor general warned that sites disseminating the appeals were helping to draw minors into an unlawful act and could be held liable.

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Navalny is currently being held in pre-trial detention. He was detained just after arriving in Moscow from Berlin last week after spending months in Germany. During his time outside Russia, which was the result of an alleged poisoning last summer, he had technically violated the terms of his parole from a 2014 embezzlement case. As a result, the Russian prisons authority petitioned a court to replace his suspended term with a real one.

The case is hardly clear cut, since Navalny left the country due to a medical emergency. In August he fell seriously ill after what he believes to be an attempt on his life by agents of the Russian security service FSB. The poisoning claim was supported by Germany and many other Western countries, who demanded Navalny’s unconditional release after his latest arrest in Russia.

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The Kremlin has denied that an assassination attempt ever happened and instead claims Navalny is working with foreign intelligence agencies in a bid to smear Russia. The government said it will ignore Navalny’s foreign supporters, saying they were meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs.

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Source: RT

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