MOSCOW -- Police detained several hundred people as demonstrators marched through central Moscow to maintain pressure on the authorities following the release of Ivan Golunov, an investigative reporter who had been arrested on a drug charge supporters said was fabricated.
Opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and several journalists were among what OVD-Info, a group that monitors protests and arrests in Russia, said were more than 400 people detained at the rally in the capital on June 12. Navalny later said on Twitter that he had been released and voiced hope that all those detained were set free.
Moscow police said that some 1,200 people took part and that more than 200 were detained for participating in a public gathering that had not been permitted by city authorities.
The March for Ivan Golunov's Freedom had been organized to demand the release of the journalist, whose June 6 arrest on a charge of seeking to sell a large quantity of drugs sparked outrage and a show of solidarity from media workers in a country where reporters who expose corruption frequently face the threat of retribution.
In a stunning reversal, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev announced late on June 11 that the charges against Golunov were being dropped for lack of evidence that he committed a crime, and the 36-year-old -- who had been confined to house arrest by a court days earlier -- walked free soon after that.
Organizers of the march said on Facebook late on June 11 that they had failed to get approval from the city authorities and could not continue calling on citizens to come out and demonstrate, advising people to decide for themselves.
Nearly 25,000 people had said on Facebook that they were interested or planning to attend, and hundreds showed up ahead of the midday start time.
Demonstrators, some wearing T-shirts with slogans supporting Golunov, said they wanted to maintain pressure on the authorities. Some said they were marching to demand probes into other drug cases they suspect were fabricated, reforms of a statute under which such cases are prosecuted, and the release of inmates they say are innocent.
"I'm here because we still have a lot of political prisoners, people who sit in jail on drug charges," said Dana, 21, a recent university graduate who did not want her last name published for fear of repercussions.
"Drug policy in Russia needs to be changed," Dana said. She said she had been calling for Golunov's release and was outside the courthouse during his first hearing.
The termination of the case and Golunov's abrupt release followed persistent public pressure and a possibly unprecedented show of solidarity from Russian journalists and media workers.
It was a rare development in a country where rights groups and critics of President Vladimir Putin's government say the authorities at all levels use fabricated charges to silence opponents or suppress the truth and acquittals are almost unheard of.
"We are all Golunov, after all," said Kira Churnikova, a student of business analytics who came to the march and said that those responsible for Golunov's arrest must be brought to justice. "Nothing's finished until they jail those guilty of the case."
City officials urged Muscovites not to demonstrate. Multiple police buses were parked at the site of the rally, which came on the national Russia Day holiday, and police blocked off a section of the city including a street leading toward Red Square.
Marchers skirted the area but some Muscovites were angrily demanding access to their homes and workplaces.
Police began detaining people as the demonstration began and stopped the marchers near the Trubnaya subway station, where they plucked many from the crowd and took them away, treating some detainees roughly.
Navalny, a vocal foe of Putin who attempted to challenge the president in a March 2018 election but was barred from the ballot, was detained in the same area and muscled into a police van.
"I'm loving the view," he wrote in an Instagram post along with a photograph of demonstrators taken from behind the barred window of the van. Navalny has repeatedly been detained for protests and has spent many days in jail in recent years.
A reporter for the Latvia-based Russian online news site Meduza, specialized in investigating corruption among top Moscow city officials and others.
Golunov, his colleagues, and supporters rejected the drug charge against him, calling it absurd and contending that he was being punished for his reporting.
The case added to public anger over what many Russians see as arbitrary and unjust actions by state officials and others with influence who critics say serve their own interests rather than those of the people.
"This is not a unique case -- his arrest was the last straw," said marcher Galina Petrova, a pensioner. "They don't treat us like citizens anymore."
Golunov's release came nine days before Putin, who will have been president or prime minister for nearly 20 years in August, holds an annual call-in show that is broadcast live nationwide and that he uses to bolster his image.
The sluggish economy and decisions such as a retirement-age increase have dented Putin's popularity, though it remains well above 50 oercent, and a poll last month showed that the level of public trust in him reached a long-time low.
"Russia is freer, on one hand, compared to the Soviet Union I lived in," said Natasha Tveritinova, a pensioner at the rally. "But when people languish in jail on political charges, then it cannot be free."