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Dozens Held In Moscow, St. Petersburg For Protesting Journalist's Arrest

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Russian Activists Detained For Protesting Against Jailing Of Journalist
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WATCH: Russian Activists Detained For Protesting Against Jailing Of Journalist

MOSCOW -- Police in Moscow have detained 32 people, including a State Duma member, several municipal lawmakers, and journalists who came out to protest against the jailing of prominent Russian journalist Ilya Azar, an independent political watchdog says.

OVD-Info said eight activists were also detained on May 29 in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg.

Most were later released from police custody, OVD-Info said.

Azar, a 35-year-old local legislator and journalist for the independent Novaya gazeta newspaper, was sentenced to 15 days in jail the previous day for repeatedly violating Russia's strict protest laws.

He and his supporters were detained while or before holding single-person protests amid the lockdown imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Activists vowed to continue protesting in Azar's support, arguing such single pickets can't be classified as "mass public events" and should therefore be allowed.

In Moscow, many Azar supporters were detained near the Interior Ministry's main directorate before starting their single-person pickets.

Those detained included Moscow City Duma member Mikhail Timonov and seven municipal councilors, including Yulia Galyamina, Elena Rusakova, and Denis Petrov, according to OVD-Info and Interfax.

Two journalists for Ekho Moskvy radio station, Aleksandr Plyushchev and Tatyana Felgengauer, were also detained.

Meanwhile, the city police said in a statement that "holding any public events in Moscow is banned" due to the stay-at-home quarantine rules imposed over the coronavirus epidemic.

Azar was detained outside Moscow’s police headquarters on May 26 while protesting against the jailing on extortion charges of an activist who has worked to expose violations within Russia's law enforcement agencies.

His jailing triggered outrage among journalists and opposition activists. Thirteen of them were detained while picketing the police headquarters on May 28.

Amnesty International accused the authorities of "crushing activism and impinging on human rights to silence critics."

The Russian authorities should not use the coronavirus epidemic as "an excuse to restrict freedom of assembly any more than is strictly necessary to protect public health," according Human Rights Watch.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe representative on freedom of the media, Harlem Desir, said he was "alarmed" by the detention of the detained journalists and called for their immediate release.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow tweeted that "the right to #freedomofexpression should not be a casualty of #COVID-19."

With reporting by Interfax
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