France, Germany condemn protest crackdown in Moscow

France and Germany on Sunday (4 July) condemned a Russian police crackdown on a banned opposition rally that saw hundreds detained, with Paris criticising an “excessive use of force” after a second weekend of protests over the exclusion of opposition candidates from local Moscow polls next month.

Berlin said the police action on Saturday “violated” Russia’s international obligations and undermines the right to fair elections in the country.

The arrests on Saturday were “out of all proportion to the peaceful nature of the protests against the exclusion of independent candidates” from city elections in Moscow, the German government said.

Crowds had walked along the capital’s central boulevard in a protest “stroll” over the refusal by officials to let opposition candidates run in September polls for city parliament seats — a local issue that has turned into a political crisis.

Police say 1,500 people took part in the demonstration.

AFP reporters on the ground observed dozens of arrests along the route, as police formed human chains and grabbed people indiscriminately.

An ally of detained opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Lyubov Sobol, who is currently three weeks into a hunger strike after being barred from taking part in the election, was dragged from a taxi and detained as she set off for the rally.

Hours later she was taken to court where she was fined 300,000 rubles for a gathering on 15 July, and held for further questioning over the protest last weekend, her team said.

A French foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement that Paris “insists on freedom of expression in all its forms, including that of demonstrating peacefully and taking part in free and transparent elections.”

France “calls on Russia to immediately free the people incarcerated in recent days and to conform to its commitments as a member of the OSCE and the Council of Europe,” the statement said.

Berlin condemned “the repeated interference in the guaranteed right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression” which “violates Russia’s international obligations and strongly questions the right to free and fair elections”.

Sunday’s statements from Berlin and Paris follow an appeal last Monday calling on Moscow to release 1,400 other protesters detained after a similar demonstration on 27 July.

Navalny criminal probe

According to the independent protest monitor OVD-Info, some 828 people were detained during the latest rally on Saturday in Moscow.

Authorities also upped the pressure on Navalny, a top Kremlin critic, by launching a criminal probe into his anti-graft group on Saturday.

Navalny was rushed from his cell to hospital last weekend in an incident his personal doctor said could be poisoning with an unknown chemical substance.

A state toxicology lab said no traces were found.

President Vladimir Putin has yet to comment on the situation in Moscow.

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