At least 35 detained at Moscow opposition protest

Moscow (AFP) –


Russian police arrested more than 30 people in central Moscow on Friday on the second day that peaceful opposition protesters were detained during a city-wide lockdown.

The new arrests came despite warnings from rights organisations such as Amnesty International and the Council of Europe that Moscow should not be using the coronavirus lockdown as a pretext to muzzle activists.

At least 35 people including popular journalists and municipal lawmakers were detained near the Moscow police headquarters, said OVD-Info, a website which tracks detentions at political protests.

Municipal deputy Yulia Galyamina posted on Facebook a picture of herself at a police station with the word "Freedom" scribbled on her surgical mask.

Since Thursday, protesters have been staging one-person pickets outside the Moscow police headquarters in response to the sentencing of prominent opposition activist and journalist Ilya Azar to 15 days in jail.

Azar, a 35-year-old municipal deputy and journalist at the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was detained this week for staging a protest in support of an activist who has worked to expose violations within the police service and is currently in jail.

About 20 journalists and activists were detained at protests backing Azar on Thursday in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

In recent years Russia has cracked down hard on opposition demonstrations and a single-person protest is the only type allowed without prior permission from the authorities.

On Friday, Moscow police said in a statement that "holding any public events in Moscow is banned" due to the stay-at-home quarantine rules.

Russia has the world's third-largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases with 387,000, behind the United States and Brazil.

Last summer Azar helped organise a series of anti-government rallies in Moscow demanding fair elections that drew tens of thousands of people.