Russia opposition leader arrested ahead of protest

Russia opposition leader arrested ahead of protest

The Russian police have detained prominent opposition figure Lyubov Sobol ahead of a protest in Moscow to demand a free municipal election.

After a struggle, Sobol was forced into an unmarked van after leaving the opposition headquarters.

Thousands are expected to rally today (Saturday) despite the many arrests and an official ban on the event.

Sobol, who has been on hunger strike for 21 days, called on protesters to attend the event.

She was detained in a taxi as she tried to reach the protest and was driven off in a police van.

Sobol, a close associate of Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny, has been protesting against the exclusion of opposition candidates from Moscow city elections on September 8.

Their registration was rejected because their signatures were deemed invalid.

The council has limited power but opposition candidates, gradually excluded from other elections under President Vladimir Putin, hoped to use it as a political platform to launch a wider movement.

Sobol, a lawyer, is one of the excluded candidates from the Moscow election.

The authorities said she was being held for violating protest regulations.

The summer protests have caught the authorities off guard and sparked clashes with riot police and hundreds of arrests.

“They ignored all our appeals so I have to fight in a more radical way,” she told the BBC.

“I think a hunger strike is a means of applying pressure.

“Of course, Putin sees such action as blackmail and won’t accept it. But it’s my way of defending my rights.”

Last month Sobol was dragged from Moscow’s electoral commission headquarters on a sofa.

Before her arrest, she told non-government broadcaster Dozhd that the government was “doing everything they can to try to intimidate the opposition”.

“That is why it is important to come out today to show that Muscovites are not afraid of provocation and they are ready to continue to stand up for their rights,” the activist said.

More than 1,000 demonstrators were arrested last month during the weekend protest in one of the biggest crackdowns in years.

An official investigation has been launched into the July protests, which it called “mass unrest”, a charge which carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

Navalny fell ill in prison with a swollen face and rashes over his body, and was briefly treated in hospital.

Medics blamed an extreme allergic reaction while Navalny and his private doctor said the opposition leaders may have been poisoned.

Navalny remains in detention for calling for activists to attend anti-government demonstrations.

Picture credit: Wikimedia

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