Russian protesters on Thursday called for the release of activists they said were political prisoners and urged the nation to unite against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on civil society.
About 1,500 citizens and members of the motley opposition movement packed a central Moscow square to protest the detention of people arrested after clashes on the eve of Putin’s inauguration to a third term in May.
Protests were also held in other Russian cities, most notably St Petersburg and Volgograd.
A Moscow demonstration on May 6 erupted into street battles with riot police in some of the worst violence seen since unprecedented protests against Putin’s decade-long rule first shook Russia late last year.
Investigators said earlier on Thursday that they had detained two more activists as part of their probe. Those detentions came on top of 14 activists already under investigation, including 12 who have been arrested.
Thursday’s rally grew into a show of support for other jailed activists, including three members of all-girl punk band Pussy Riot who called for Putin’s ouster in an unsanctioned Moscow cathedral performance in February. Earlier this month the three women were ordered to stay in pre-trial detention until January. They could face up to seven years in prison.
Opposition activists told Thursday’s rally the authorities sought to intimidate society into silence and called on Russians to fight back.
“They declared a war on us,” leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov said.
Mark Feigin, one of Pussy Riot’s defense lawyers, called on those gathered to attend mass rallies scheduled for September and October, when more protests are expected after a relative lull in summer.