Russian police today arrested hundreds of demonstrators in Moscow’s Pushkin Square who had gathered to protest against institutionalised corruption.
Citing police sources, Russian state news agency Tass said around 500 people were arrested as thousands convened in the largest of a nationwide wave of protests against the policies of President Vladimir Putin’s government.
An independent monitoring group said as many 700 people were detained during the Moscow demonstration.
In all, some 7,000 people were estimated to have gathered in Pushkin Square, in one of multiple protests around the country that posed a direct challenge to Putin’s government a year ahead of Russia’s next Presidential election.
Among those arrested was prominent anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, who plans to stand against Putin in 2018.
Speaking moments before he was detained, Navalny said: “I’m happy that so many people came out [onto the streets] from the east [of the country] to Moscow.”
Organisers of the demonstrations said as many as 30,000 people defied a police order that banned participation in the protests, which took place in numerous locations all over the country.
Navalny and his Foundation for Fighting Corruption called for the protests after releasing a film earlier this month that accused Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of acquiring a vast property empire that would be impossible to amass on his official salary.
In spite of receiving barely any coverage from mainstream national media in Russia, the documentary has amassed nearly 12 million views on YouTube since being released a little over three weeks ago.
A spokesperson for Medvedev said the allegations made in the film are nothing more than “propagandistic attacks” that are not worthy of a detailed response. Medvedev himself has made no comment the documentary’s contents.
Protesters were yesterday calling for Medvedev’s resignation, and voiced anger that authorities had failed to investigate the claims made in Navalny’s film.
State media said the demonstrators who were arrested were held for “illegal provocation”.
In an apparent attempt to downplay his arrest after his detention, Navalny took to Twitter to tell his followers: “Today we are discussing and condemning corruption, not the detentions. Well, I was detained. So what. It’s ok. There are things in life that are worth being detained for.”
He said he was proud of those who had taken to the streets, telling them they were helping to fight for a Russia free from corruption.
Navalny’s bid for the Presidency stands little chance of succeeding, with opinion polls consistently showing high approval ratings for Putin. However, the campaigner believes he and his opposition party can exploit widespread anger over political corruption to drum up more support.
Navalny was handed a five-year suspended jail term after being convicted of embezzlement last month, a ruling that may prevent him from standing in next year’s election himself.