Around 50,000 to 60,000 people came out to protest for fair elections in Moscow today, according to Beliye Schetchik (White Counter), a group that counts attendance at rallies.
Observers and monitors, including Beliye Schetchik, say this is the biggest opposition rally to held in the capital since 2011.
Authorities however reported a smaller number. The press service of the capital’s Interior Ministry told news agency Interfax that 15,000 people came to Saturday’s political demonstration on Academician Sakharov Prospect in central Moscow.
As opposed to the past two weekends, during which around 2300 people were detained, this Saturday’s Moscow protest was authorized.
Dozens of cities around Russia also held demonstrations and pickets in solidarity with the Moscow protests, which are now in their fifth consecutive week.
According to monitoring group OVD-Info, these demonstrations weren’t just about protesting the disqualification of opposition candidates from Moscow City Council elections but also about the administrative and criminal prosecution of participants in previous protests and police violence, among other political issues.
Despite the Moscow protest being authorized, hours after the rally ended, online newspaper Meduza reported that law enforcement authorities had started detaining people. Just before 7pm local time, OVD-Info reported that 196 people were detained in four cities, including 106 in Moscow and 78 in St Petersburg.
Not all of the protesters dispersed after the approved protest today. Some marches down to the presidential administration building and started changing “Putin is a thief” https://t.co/k3bYUYJJHM— Evan Gershkovich (@evangershkovich) August 10, 2019
Just like last weekend, Lyubov Sobol, an opposition candidate who was barred from running in next month’s city council elections, was detained by police just before the protest in Moscow officially kicked off.
A number of Russian celebrities, including rappers Oxxxymiron and Face, singer Loqiemean and YouTuber Eldar Dzharakhov attended the rally.
One of Russia’s top rap stars, @norimyxxxo, joined the anti-Kremlin rally today for the first time. A significant shift given that the size of his social media audience alone is on par with govt-funded TV channels pic.twitter.com/xgXXSh4NAq— Ivan Nechepurenko (@INechepurenko) August 10, 2019
Meanwhile, Russian authorities tried entice the capital’s youth away from the protests by staging a “musical-gastronomic festival” called “Meat&Beat”, The Guardian reported.
Earlier this week, The Moscow Times reported that Russia’s Central Election Commission made a final decision to bar several opposition candidates, including Sobol, from running in September’s elections.
The authorities’ official reason for disqualifying the candidates is a lack of genuine voter signatures to support their nominations. In Russia, according to the law, self-nominees must collect signatures from 3 percent of their district, which is about 5000. Although independent candidates did this, the election commissions still barred these candidates from running in the elections.
Opposition candidates accused authorities of violations- they say commission members invalidated people’s signatures. Furthermore, independent candidates were not allowed to participate in the verification process of signatures of pro-government candidates, who are suspected of fraud.
The pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which currently controls the Moscow City Council, did not officially nominate a single candidate in these elections, apparently due to low support in the capital. Its representatives are running as self-nominees, which means they also had to collect signatures. These candidates had no problems with registration.
All of Moscow City Council’s 45 seats will be contested next month, with the elections set for September 8.
This story was updated to reflect updated protest attendance figures.