Russia arrests five in mass unrest probe

Moscow (AFP) – Russian investigators said Thursday they had detained five people as part of a criminal probe into mass unrest after thousands took to the streets last week to demand fair elections.

The investigation into mass unrest, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and violence against police, comes as critics accuse the authorities of trying to crush a new wave of protests.

Authorities launched the clampdown as opposition politicians are fighting to get on the ballot for a Moscow parliament election in September amid anger over worsening living standards and President Vladimir Putin’s falling approval ratings.

The investigators said Thursday more than 10 people had been identified who helped organise and participated in a July 27 unauthorised rally in central Moscow.

Five participants have been detained including Alexey Minyaylo, a well-known activist and aide to Lyubov Sobol, an independent politician who has fought to get on the ballot for the Moscow parliament election.

Minyalo’s apartment was searched in the middle of the night, he said in a Facebook post.

“Let them come, I am not afraid,” he said ahead of his detention, urging Muscovites to continue protesting. “We will win.”

Last Saturday, nearly 1,400 people were arrested at an unauthorised protest in Moscow against the exclusion of opposition politicians from the September election.

Nearly all prominent opposition leaders were detained ahead of the rally and jailed for up to 30 days, but most of the others held have since been released.

The opposition denies mass unrest took place, stressing the July 27 rally was peaceful and that police used violence against protesters, not the other way around.

Sobol, a close ally of the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, has called on Russians to take part in a peaceful “walk” in central Moscow on Saturday.

More than 17,000 people on Facebook have expressed interest in that rally despite the threat of new violence.