Russian opposition protest leaders held in Moscow


Left Front movement leader Sergei Udaltsov holds a one-man picket during an anti-Putin protest action, demanding freedom for political prisoners in Moscow, on Saturday. (Maxin Shipenkov/European Pressphoto Agency)
October 27, 2012

Police detained three leaders of the opposition Saturday, including one who had been charged Friday with plotting mass disorder, as they walked near the headquarters of the security police to protest repression and torture.

Russian authorities have been intensifying their efforts to silence dissent in recent days, including passing laws with stiffer penalties for violations of the rules governing demonstrations. Police released the three detainees Saturday night, but said they would be charged under the new laws, with up to $1,000 in fines or up to 50 hours of community service.

Sergei Udaltsov, the socialist leader who was charged Friday then released on his own recognizance, was plucked off the street along with two liberal activists, Alexei Navalny and Ilya Yashin.

The three had spent the morning at a meeting with other opposition leaders, who had been elected to a new coordinating council of activists last weekend. The council was elected by protest-minded citizens to lead the opposition that emerged last December in demonstrations against vote-rigging and Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. After that meeting ended, they went to Federal Security Service headquarters at the Lubyanka to stage individual pickets.

The picketing was a protest against the alleged abduction of Leonid Razvozzhayev, a member of Udaltsov’s Left Front bloc, who said Russian agents seized him in Ukraine on Oct. 19.

Razvozzhayev had gone to Kiev seeking political asylum. He says he was abducted, thrown into a van and driven into Russia, where he was bound hand and foot, deprived of food, water and toilet and threatened for nearly three days until he wrote a confession that also implicated Udaltsov. He turned up in custody in Moscow on Oct. 21 and disavowed his confession Thursday after he was able to meet with a lawyer.

City officials denied the opposition a permit to demonstrate on Saturday, so the opposition called for individual picketing, which does not require a permit. About 50 protesters arranged themselves about 60 yards apart near the Lubyanka, some holding signs saying they were against repression and torture, and began walking toward the headquarters of the country’s top investigative body a few miles away.

Police using megaphones called on them to disperse, saying their presence constituted an unsanctioned demonstration. When the protesters kept walking, the police picked up the three leaders. Police said they were being held for disrupting public order.

Udaltsov reported his detention in a tweet from a police bus. “Walking down the sidewalk. Was detained without explanation. I am in a bus,” he wrote.

Shortly afterward, Navalny, an influential blogger, and Yashin were detained as well.

The detainess tweeted periodically, delivering their messages in upbeat tones, commenting on their cellmates, complaining that their lawyers weren’t allowed to see them, saying they refused to be intimidated. Later in the day, an opposition journalist, Sergei Parkhomenko, was picked up. From the police bus he tweeted: “Lost. Riot police don’t know address of police station. Found it for them on the Internet.”

When Parkhomenko finally arrived at the station, Navalny took a picture of him smiling cheerfully, and tweeted it.

In another development Saturday, Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the Brooklyn Nets who ran unsuccessfully for president in March, said he was quitting business and devoting himself to politics.

After a meeting of his movement, the Civil Platform party, he told reporters that he had arranged for his interests to be managed by a trust. Though Prokhorov was popular with voters in Moscow, who liked his business experience, some suspected he was running to split the opposition and benefit Vladimir Putin, who easily won the election.

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