A female protester who was controversially punched and beaten during a rally for free municipal elections in Moscow has been taken to hospital for treatment of a head injury.
Tatyana Molokanova, a lawyer for Daria Sosnovskaya, told Current Time television on August 13 that her client was hospitalized after complaining of headaches and bruises on the top of her head that she suffered while being arrested at the protest on August 10.
Russian civil rights lawyer Pavel Chikov of the legal-aid group Agora added that Sosnovskaya has been diagnosed with a concussion.
"This diagnosis was made by doctors at Moscow Hospital 67, where she was informed late on August 12," he said.
Rallies held each of the past four Saturdays to demand that officials allow independent candidates on the ballot in the upcoming municipal vote have resulted in thousands of arrests and condemnation of the heavy-handed tactics police are using against mostly peaceful protesters.
The police crackdown has been called one of the harshest in recent years against an opposition that has grown more defiant while denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hold on power.
In the Kremlin’s first comments on the crackdown, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on August 13 called the police response “justified” and downplayed the significance of the protests.
Video of Sosnovskaya’s arrest, widely circulated on the Internet, shows two men in uniforms that resemble those of Russia's National Guard taking her toward a police van.
At one point in the video footage, the woman appears to try to kick a police baton lying on the street as one of the officers is trying to pick it up.
The uniformed officer staggers the woman with a punch to her stomach and grabs the baton from the ground before shoving her into the police van seconds later.
The video has added to growing outrage at home and abroad over a decision by officials to block opposition candidates from running in elections for Moscow’s city council.
Russia’s Interior Ministry said on August 12 that it was setting up an investigation of the incident.
Local media have quoted the National Guard as saying that the officer who punched Sosnovskaya is not a member of the Russian National Guard's units.
It is not clear which law enforcement unit the officers belong to.
Russian officers are rarely disciplined for using excessive and disproportionate force against demonstrators.
On August 11, Chikov offered a reward of 100,000 rubles (about $1,500) for help identifying the officer who punched Sosnovskaya.
The independent rights watchdog OVD-Info says more than 350 people were detained across Russia on August 10 during protests against the refusal of election officials to register several opposition candidates for Moscow's municipal elections.
Seventy-nine people were detained in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, 13 in Rostov-on-Don, two in Bryansk, and two in Syktyvkar.
At previous protests in Moscow, police detained about 1,400 people on July 27 and more than 1,000 people on August 3.
Peskov told reporters on August 13 that "the firm action of law enforcement to curb public unrest was absolutely justified."
The Kremlin spokesman said that Putin has "paid attention to what is happening" but did comment because "every day in Russia a huge number of events take place."
"We do not agree with those who call what is happening a political crisis," he also said.
On August 12, Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, called on Russian authorities to "release political prisoners, cease arresting peaceful protesters, and allow opposition candidates to run for office without harassment."
"Congress stands with those in Russia seeking democracy and a government free from rampant corruption," he added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin created the National Guard in April 2016 to fight terrorism and organized crime.
It is headed by Viktor Zolotov, a former steelworker who had been the head of the presidential security service from 2000 to 2013.
Russia's National Guard reports directly to President Putin.