Thousands rally for political prisoners in Moscow

MOSCOW (AFP) – Thousands gathered in Moscow yesterday for a demonstration demanding the release of opposition protesters prosecuted in recent months.

Police estimated a turnout of 20,000 at the Sakharov Avenue in central Moscow about half an hour after the start of the protest, which was authorised.

The demonstrators chanted ‘let them go’ and brandished placards demanding a halt to “repressions” of opposition protesters.

Several protesters who were charged but freed in recent weeks thanked the crowd for putting pressure on the authorities.

“We have to keep demanding to respect our rights, because they have left us no choice but to protest in the streets,” said opposition leader Lyubov Sobol.

A protester holds a banner reading ‘Freedom to political prisoners! They haven’t to be arrested!’ during a rally to support political prisoners in Moscow. PHOTO: AP

The current wave of demonstrations was triggered by the refusal of Moscow authorities to allow opposition activists like Sobol, an associate of top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, participate in local elections.

The sweeping, sometimes violent crackdown on protests backfired when crowds of many as 50,000 began to gather with wider political demands while the opposition gained dozens of seats in city parliament.

The summer protests became the biggest since the winter gatherings against President Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2011-12.

The case of actor Pavel Ustinov, in particular, made waves after videos proving he was not guilty of hurting a police officer were not allowed to be shown in court.

A number of celebrities spoke out in Ustinov’s support and the uproar eventually led authorities to backtrack.

Ustinov’s appeal today is expected to result in a much lesser sentence or even acquittal.