Russia: Thousands of Anti-Putin Protesters Turn Out for Fourth Week of Demonstrations

People hold banners and signs during an unauthorised rally in support of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region who was arrested, in the Russian far eastern city of Khabarovsk on July 25, 2020. - Huge anti-government demonstrations erupted in Russia's Far East on July 25 over the arrest …

Thousands of people braved challenging weather conditions in the far eastern part of Russia for the fourth week running this weekend to demonstrate against the increasing repression of Vladimir Putin’s regime.

As torrential rain poured down, protesters took to the streets on Saturday in the city of Khabarovsk to protest against last month’s arrest of Gov. Sergei Furgal on dubious murder charges dating back 15 years. A member of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, prosecutors claim he was involved in a murder conspiracy between 2004 and 2005 with several other businessmen when he was working in the timber and scrap metal trade.

His arrest also took place less than a fortnight after Putin successfully orchestrated a nationwide referendum on constitutional reforms that will allow him to rule Russia for another 16 years, which Furgal had opposed. He first drew the attention of the Kremlin in 2018 when he defeated Putin’s United Russia party candidate in the gubernatorial election in an unexpected landslide victory.

Two weeks ago, the Kremlin replaced him with Mikhail Degtyaryov, a fellow LDP member who has never lived in the region and holds almost no leadership experience. For the second week running, he left during the protests to visit another part of Russia.

“My mother voted for Furgal: she wanted him,” said Zoya, a 15-year-old student speaking to The Financial Times. “We all want him. But then our vote, our choice, was taken away.”

According to local media, about 10,000 people joined Saturday’s protests, a smaller number than in previous weeks, allowing authorities to more easily crack down on individuals involved.

Moscow Times reported that over the course of the weekend, Russian courts sentenced two protesters to two weeks in prison and fined another pair 10,000 rubles ($134) for participating in unsanctioned protests. Police detailed two other individuals on the eve of the demonstration to prevent their participation.

As authorities began to crack down, protesters have begun chanting new slogans such as “Freedom to political prisoners,” “When we are united, we are unbeatable” and “You can’t scare us.” Previous chants have included “Putin resign” and “Twenty years, no trust,” a reference to the length of Putin’s reign.

This weekend marked 22 consecutive days of protest since Furgal’s arrest. The largest demonstrations take place every Saturday. Furgal has been in Moscow since his arrest and has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He will remain in custody until his next hearing on September 9.

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