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Russian Police Arrest Hundreds at Protest, Including Navalny, After Reporter’s Release

Category: Europe,World

MOSCOW — The Moscow police arrested about 400 people, including the country’s main opposition leader, during a street protest on Wednesday against abusive police tactics.

At an event where the outcome, mass arrests, seemed only to confirm the protesters’ complaints, riot police dragged demonstrators from the crowd seemingly at random and arrested news photographers and reporters.

The police said more than 200 protesters had been detained. OVD Info, an independent group monitoring arrests, said more than 400 had been arrested. Among them was Aleksei A. Navalny, the opposition leader.

Organizers had called the protest to support a Russian journalist, Ivan Golunov, whom supporters say the police had framed on drug charges last week. Pictures produced by the police that seemed to show a drug lab in the reporter’s apartment had been faked. In a rare about-face, the authorities released Mr. Golunov on Tuesday, acknowledged that there was no evidence to support the charges and opened an investigation into the police who had detained him.

That seemingly met the demands of the protest organizers. But several thousand people turned up anyway, saying the reporter’s release was just a ruse to defuse a protest or that police abuse was a problem wider than just his case.

The arrests on Wednesday “are a perfect example of the cruel repression that brought protesters to the streets in the first place,” Denis Krivosheev, deputy director for Amnesty International’s Eastern European and Central Asia Office, said in a statement.

In the crowd, the perception that the Russian police plant drugs on dissidents was widespread. It is a new form of political repression, participants said.

Tatyana Malshava, 40, who works in sales in a public-relation company, said she had come to protest police abuse of power such as fabricating evidence, even if Mr. Golunov’s case had been dropped.

“Just imagine how many people in Russia are in jail for nothing, for reasons invented by our government,” she said. “It’s a pity. Anyone can be a victim of such charges.”

Russian journalists numbering at least in the dozens turned up to take part in the demonstration, rather than to cover the event.

“Golunov was only an example of all the abuses bothering people,” said Tatyana Felgenhauer, an anchor at Echo of Moscow radio station. “Ivan is free, but the story isn’t over.”

The protest, though, ended quickly for hundreds of participants.

Sirens blaring, police vans sped through the warren of side streets and alleys in the old center of Moscow. Riot police hopped out, blocked sidewalks and arrested demonstrators.

The previous arrest of Mr. Golunov, the reporter, had touched a nerve in the Russian capital. Film and theater celebrities joined reporters in publicly condemning the clumsy frame job.

Mr. Golunov had been reporting on corruption in the funeral home industry. Russian families are often pressed to pay bribes to bury loved ones. The bribery racket has been shifting from organized crime groups to corrupt security service officials, Mr. Golunov reported before his arrest, and he had planned another article on the topic.

“The same thing happened to the funeral industry that’s happened with the rest of the Russian economy,” Mr. Golunov wrote in a report in Meduza, an online news portal. “State officials purged the market and forced its previous masters to the periphery.”

The police in Russia have routinely plowed ahead with dubious cases against people who expose the government to scrutiny or ridicule, but for unclear reasons, the Ministry of Interior shifted tack this time and dropped all charges against Mr. Golunov.

The zigzag on Mr. Golunov’s case came as economic stagnation has taken a bite out of Russians’ well-being, and as a flurry of small protests has broken out in Russian provincial cities, often over local issues related to corruption and financial woes. In other instances, the authorities have settled on compromises to defuse protests, as some demonstrators suggested Mr. Golunov’s release was intended to do.

The shift in his case also came during a period of apparent infighting at the Federal Security Service, the successor to the K.G.B.; a senior officer overseeing banking was arrested this year, for example. That context suggests that one faction intended to use the episode to damage another.

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