20,000 Russians rally in Moscow to demand release of jailed protesters

Vastavam web: More than 20,000 Russians took to the streets of Moscow on Sunday to demand the release of protesters jailed over the summer in what opponents of the Kremlin say is a campaign to stifle dissent. The protesters were arrested at rallies that flared in July when opposition politicians were barred from a local election. Allegations of police brutality and what many Muscovites saw as harsh jail sentences have sparked an unusual public outcry.

Several people have been sentenced to up to four years in jail, and others are being prosecuted for crimes such as violence against police officers. On a rainy Sunday, throngs of people waved flags from an array of political groups, chanting “Let them go!” and “Freedom for political prisoners”.

The protests do not pose a threat to President Vladimir Putin who won re-election by a landslide last year. But they come as his ratings have slipped following years of falling real incomes and an unpopular move to hike the retirement age.

The White Counter group which monitors political protests said it counted 25,200 people at the rally. Police put the figure at around 20,000. The demonstration was authorised by the Moscow mayor’s office, unlike several rallies in recent months where police briefly detained more than 2,000 people. No police detentions were reported on Sunday.