Police arrested more than 800 people in Moscow at demonstrations in support of free elections. Organizers structured the rally as a “mass stroll” along the city’s Boulevard Ring. Hours before the event was supposed to begin, large numbers of police officers and National Guard troops patrolled the public squares along the route, stopping passersby to check their identification and inspect their bags.
As usual, there’s some disagreement and confusion about how many people attended the protest: officially, police say 1,500 people participated, but eyewitnesses and independent observers say there were far more demonstrators — at least 5,000 (and some arrest reports cite exactly this figure). In a press statement, the police said there were roughly 600 arrests, but the human rights project OVD-Info put the total at 828. The most severe mass arrests took place at Pushkin Square and Trubnaya Square.
Police arrested dozens of minors, and several protesters were injured. Saturday’s arrests in central Moscow were often sweeping and indiscriminate. According to OVD-Info, police booked at least 81 minors and 14 journalists, as well as several Moscow municipal deputies and multiple candidates who have been registered to compete in next month’s City Duma elections. The same outlet also reported that at least 18 demonstrators had to be hospitalized because of injuries sustained when they were arrested, and one of these people is a teenager.
To manage the large number of arrests, police took everyone (including the minors and injured people) to 51 different police stations across the city. Several eyewitnesses reported that the authorities seized their mobile phones (according to the group “Protest Apology,” this was on orders from the Investigative Committee, and the “Open Russia” human rights project says these orders are linked to a criminal investigation into mass rioting). In detention, protesters were denied food, water, and access to doctors and lawyers. For example, Khamovniki municipal deputy and former Meduza correspondent Ilya Azar wrote on Facebook that officials blocked the public’s access to the Arbat police station, while Children’s Rights Commissioner Evgeniya Bunimovich spent several hours speaking to the juveniles arrested at the protest. Across the city, at least 19 demonstrators spent the night in jail.
Lyubov Sobol, an anti-corruption activist and one of the most prominent independent candidates denied access to the September City Duma ballot, was fined 300,000 rubles ($4,600). The only mass protest organizer not behind bars before Saturday’s rally, Sobol was arrested early in the day on August 3. Several hours later, she was ultimately brought to Moscow’s Shcherbinsky District Court, where she was fined for repeated violations of Russia’s laws on public assemblies. According to the website Mediazona, the charges cited a previous demonstration at Trubnaya Square on July 15, and the casework recycled language from charges that recently landed both anti-corruption activist Oleg Stepanov and libertarian activist Mikhail Svetov in jail. According to the police, all three individuals chanted identical slogans on different days at crowds that were exactly the same size.
In the evening, the Investigative Committee summoned Sobol for questioning as a witness in its ongoing case against supposed mass rioting by Moscow opposition activists.
Investigators also formally opened a criminal case against Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) for suspected money laundering. According to officials, FBK staff and “persons with ties to its activities” received cash from certain individuals, knowing about its illegal origins, between early 2016 and late 2018. The suspects allegedly deposited this cash to their personal accounts at ATMs, and then transferred the funds to the Anti-Corruption Foundation. Investigators say FBK used this scheme to launder “roughly a billion rubles” ($15.3 million). The organization’s directors say the authorities have apparently flagged the public donations that sustain FBK’s operations.