MOSCOW – Demonstrators have taken to the center of Moscow to protest against mass violations of human rights in Russia and to call for the release of political prisoners.
Participants in the rally, dubbed For Free Russia Without Repression And Arbitrariness, gathered on Moscow’s Sakharov Avenue on June 10, two days ahead of Russia Day, a patriotic holiday, and as the country prepares to host the World Cup soccer competition from June 14 to July 15.
Police said about 1,700 people participated in the demonstration, which was authorized by Moscow's authorities, while organizers put the number at up to 5,000.
Some protesters carried a huge banner bearing a portrait of Oleh Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker, who opposed Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and is now on a hunger strike in a Russian prison colony.
Sentsov has been on hunger strike since May 14, demanding that Russia release 64 Ukrainian citizens that he considers political prisoners.
According to the independent police-monitoring group OVD-Info, two people were arrested, including activist Darya Polyudova, who in August 2014 became the first person in Russia to be charged under a law on separatism that came into force in May 2014.
Sentenced to two years in prison in 2015, Polyudova was declared a prisoner of conscience by the Russian rights group Memorial.
Ahead of the Moscow protest, veteran human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, a harsh critic of President Vladimir Putin, said the purpose of the demonstration was "to draw public attention to the catastrophic situation in the country with violations of the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens."
The rally was attended by opposition figures such as Gennady Gudkov and Sergei Udaltsov and rights defenders including Svetlana Gannushkina.
Last month, Putin was sworn in to a six-year fourth term following a landslide election that foes said was marred by fraud and international observers said did not present voters with a genuine choice.