MOSCOW – Russian opposition leaders expect thousands of people to attend a rally on Sunday demanding the release of protesters jailed in what Kremlin opponents says is a campaign to stifle dissent.
The protesters were arrested in demonstrations against the exclusion of many opposition candidates from a local election, and allegations of police brutality and what many Muscovites saw as harsh jail sentences have sparked an unusual public outcry.
Several people were sentenced to up to four years, and others are being prosecuted, for crimes such as violence against police officers.
In a rare step, courts have freed one person on bail and dropped charges against another. But President Vladimir Putin’s opponents say their release may be a tactic to avoid wider concessions and want to step up pressure for others to be freed.
“If there are 50,000 people, they’ll let everyone out,” opposition politician Leonid Volkov wrote on Twitter.
The rally has been authorized by the Moscow mayor’s office, meaning mass detentions by police are less likely to happen.
The series of protests began in July when more than a dozen opposition-minded candidates were not allowed to run in a Sept. 8 election to Moscow’s city legislature on a technicality.
The police says people were detained or prosecuted for breaking the law and that the protests had to be dispersed as they had not been authorized and were illegal.
After his allies were barred from the vote, opposition leader Alexei Navalny called on supporters to vote tactically for opponents of the ruling United Russia party, regardless of their political stripe.
United Russia, which supports Putin, lost a third of its seats in the Moscow city assembly, a setback for the authorities that Navalny said was a victory for the Kremlin’s opponents even though the governing party kept its majority.
The rallies were the largest sustained protest movement in Moscow in almost a decade, peaking at around 60,000 people, before appearing to lose momentum.