The independent OVD-Info, which monitors arrests and political repression, said more than 170 forum participants had been arrested. Among them was Ilya Yashin, an opposition politician who leads one of Moscow’s municipal districts. Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeny Ruizmann; And a member of the Moscow Municipal Council Yulia Galiamina.
“Their goal was to scare people away from getting involved in politics,” Andrei Pivovarov, a politician who helped organize the forum, said in a video clip from a police truck.
Pivovarov played a leading role in the Russia Open, a group funded by self-exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky moved to London after spending 10 years in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as political revenge for challenging President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
A 2015 law imposed criminal penalties for membership in “undesirable” organizations. The government used the law to ban around 30 groups, including Open Russia.
A previous law required NGOs that receive foreign funding and engage in activities loosely described as political to register as “foreign agents.”
The laws were widely criticized as part of the Kremlin’s efforts to suppress dissent, but Russian authorities described them as an adequate response to alleged Western efforts to undermine the country.
The police crackdown at Saturday’s forum came on the heels of the arrest and imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s staunchest enemy was arrested on January 17 on his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve gas poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. The Russian authorities have rejected this accusation.
Last month, Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating the terms of his probation during his convalescence in Germany – charges that he dismissed as a Kremlin vendetta. His arrest and imprisonment sparked a wave of protests across Russia, to which the authorities responded with widespread repression.
The government intensified its crackdown on the opposition ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for September as the popularity of the main Kremlin-backed party, United Russia, waned.
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