Russian police on Saturday arrested around 200 opposition politicians and municipal deputies at a Moscow conference as authorities tighten the screws on Kremlin critics ahead of parliamentary elections.
A police raid on an opposition conference dedicated to running for municipal office came after President Vladimir Putin’s top critic Alexei Navalny was jailed for two and a half years last month and more than 10,000 protesters detained across the country.
While Russian police routinely break up opposition protests, the mass arrests of municipal deputies at a conference in Moscow were unprecedented.
Participants from more than 50 of Russia’s regions had gathered to discuss parliamentary and local elections in September at a forum organised by a project backed by prominent Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Forty minutes into the conference police broke up the event and detained the participants.
“The ENTIRE forum of Russian municipal deputies has been detained in Moscow!” Khodorkovsky said on Twitter, calling the detentions “unconstitutional”.
A number of well-known opposition figures including Ilya Yashin, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Yulia Galyamina, Yevgeny Roizman and Andrei Pivovarov as well as journalists have been detained.
“A very symbolic end to a short forum: deputies in police vans, and masked police are twisting people’s arms,” Yashin said on Facebook.
– ‘Undesirable’ organisation –
Moscow police said in a statement that around 200 people had been detained.
Many of the conference participants did not wear masks, while some were members of an organisation whose work had been declared “undesirable,” police said.
Pivovarov, speaking to AFP from a police station, said the forum participants had been detained because authorities believe the conference was organised by Open Russia, a movement founded by Khodorkovsky and designated as an “undesirable organisation”.