MOSCOW (AP) — More than 200 people were reported arrested on Wednesday in a large unauthorized protest against falsified police cases, sparked by the recent arrest of a prominent reporter on drug-dealing charges that later were dropped.
The confrontation was a harsh coda to the elation felt by journalists and other Russian supporters of Ivan Golunov after police took the unprecedented move announced Tuesday that charges against him were dropped because of a lack of evidence.
The Interior Ministry said about 1,200 people took part in the demonstration and that the more than 200 people arrested would face charges that could bring up to 20 days in jail, state news agency Tass reported. Among those arrested was Alexei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin's most prominent foe.
Golunov, an investigative reporter for the website Meduza, was arrested last week for allegedly dealing synthetic stimulants. His defense said he was beaten in custody and information indicating the charges were falsified quickly surfaced.
Police posted photos of drugs allegedly taken in his apartment, but later admitted they were from another case. State TV reported that Golunov had been intoxicated when arrested, but retracted the claim after it was pointed out that a medical document shown in the report specified he wasn't intoxicated. Lawyers said his fingerprints weren't found on any of the drug packets allegedly found in his apartment.
Many believed that Golunov was set up as retaliation for his reporting on Moscow City Hall and the city's crime-ridden funeral industry.
Protests of his arrest gathered strength quickly, apparently catching authorities by surprise, and complaints were reported in unusual detail by state media that generally hew closely to official versions.
Three of Russia's most respected newspapers on Monday published near-identical front pages reading "I/we am/are Ivan Golunov" and even the powerful speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament expressed concern about the case.
Russian human rights activists have often complained to little effect of fabricated criminal cases against opposition figures and people inconvenient to questionable businesses. While the unusual prominence of Golunov's case could be seen as a watershed in drawing attention to the issue, observers also said it was only the beginning of a long struggle.
"The case against Golunov is actually over. But the case against the system in which such lawlessness became possible is just beginning, otherwise such cases will necessarily arise again and again," wrote Maria Zheleznova, opinion editor of Vedomosti, one of the three papers that showed front-page support for Golunov.