Police in Moscow detained more than 1,300 people in a day of protests against alleged irregularities in the run-up to local elections, according to an independent group that monitors crackdowns on demonstrations.
Officers clad in riot gear used batons against demonstrators who had gathered outside Moscow City Hall on July 27 and roughly detained people.
The crackdown continued after the protesters moved to other locations in the Russian capital, chanting slogans such as “Russia without [President Vladimir] Putin!”
The United States, the European Union, and human rights groups denounced what they called the “disproportionate” and “indiscriminate” use of force against the demonstrators, who were protesting against the refusal of election officials to register several opposition figures as candidates in municipal polls in September.
Opposition leaders said the ban was an attempt to deny them the chance to challenge pro-government candidates.
Police said 1,074 arrests were made at the unsanctioned rally, while the OVD-Info independent organization reported 1,373 detentions.
A number of those held were released by the evening.
Several opposition figures and would-be candidates were among those detained by police, including Ivan Zhdanov, Ilya Yashin, and Dmitry Gudkov.
Some protest leaders were detained on their way to the rally in central Moscow.
Aleksandra Parushina, a Moscow City Duma deputy from the opposition A Just Russia party, told RFE/RL’s Current Time — a project led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA — that she was struck in the head by riot police from Russia’s OMON force, who “brutally” dispersed a crowd that was attempting to form near the Moscow mayor’s office on Tverskaya Street, one of Moscow’s main thoroughfares.
“Detention of over 1000 peaceful protestors in Russia and use of disproportionate police force undermine rights of citizens to participate in the democratic process,” U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Andrea Kalan tweeted.
In a statement, EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the “disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters” undermined “the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and assembly.”
Amnesty International also condemned what it called the “indiscriminate use of force by police, who beat protesters with batons and knocked them to the ground.”
The director of the London-based human rights watchdog’s office in Russia, Natalya Zvyagina, said Russian authorities “hit a new low by imposing military lawlike security measures on the unsanctioned rally, blocking access to major Moscow streets and shutting down businesses in advance,” despite the absence of credible reports of potential violence.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, a close ally of Putin, had warned beforehand that “order in the city will be ensured.”
It is unclear how many people turned up for the rally because authorities prevented a mass crowd from gathering together in any one location.
According to police, about 3,500 people gathered near the mayor’s office, including 700 registered journalists and bloggers.
However, opposition activists said the number was much higher.
The decision to bar opposition candidates from the September 8 City Duma election over what Moscow election officials described as insufficient signatures on nominating petitions has sparked several days of demonstrations this month.
A July 20 opposition rally in Moscow drew an estimated crowd of 20,000.
Aleksei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition activist who is currently serving a 30-day jail sentence for calling the latest protest, has said demonstrations would continue until the rejected candidates are allowed to run.
The 45 members of the Moscow City Duma hold powerful posts — retaining the ability to propose legislation as well as inspect how the city’s $43 billion budget is spent.