Russia Cracks Down on Opposition Amid Tensions Ahead of Protests

(Bloomberg) -- Russian authorities summoned opposition Moscow city council candidates for questioning after a series of raids on the homes of activists ahead of planned protests in the capital on Saturday.

The crackdown signals a reversal of a low-key approach adopted by the Kremlin toward opposition actions in recent months. It follows a 30-day jail sentence handed to opposition leader Alexey Navalny on Wednesday for urging followers to join the unauthorized protest outside Moscow city hall against the exclusion of dozens of opposition candidates from September’s elections.

Lyubov Sobol, who’s been on hunger strike for two weeks over the rejection of her candidacy, said on Twitter Friday that the Investigative Committee had called her in without explanation. Security guards carried her out of Moscow’s election commission building on the couch she was sitting on late Thursday after she refused to leave during a protest.

Dmitry Gudkov, another opposition candidate denied registration for the elections, said that he also had been summoned Friday by a detective who “promises me a surprise.”

Investigations have been opened against 15 organizers of Saturday’s protest after they ignored warnings that it lacked official approval, Moscow city prosecutor’s office said on its website. Police issued a warning to the public not to attend the event, saying they’ll take “all necessary measures” to maintain order.

“This open and shameless attempt by the Russian authorities to intimidate the opposition” must end, Amnesty International’s Oleg Kozlovsky said in a statement. “It is outrageous that the Russian authorities feel so emboldened in preventing opposition voices from being heard.”

More than 20,000 people attended an authorized protest in the capital last Saturday. With President Vladmir Putin’s approval rating at the lowest since 2013 after five years of falling living standards, the authorities have this year made several concessions to mass movements across the country.

Protesters succeeded in overturning plans to build a church in a popular downtown park in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg. When widespread outrage erupted last month over the arrest of a Moscow investigative journalist on trumped-up drug charges, the Interior Ministry ordered police to drop the case and dismissed several officers.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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