As election campaigning begins in Russia, authorities have detained dozens of opposition activists demanding their right to gather in public.
Police routinely break up such protests. The latest rallies in St Petersburg and Moscow were no different.
“There are no elections today,” said leading anti-Kremlin critic Konstantin Kosyakin of the Left Front, one of those arrested in the capital. “They want us to choose from those they have screened beforehand,” he added. “They don’t allow us to elect those we want to elect. We believe these elections and the whole system are unlawful.”
Activists demonstrate on the last day of each month with 31 days to symbolise the right to free assembly guaranteed under Article 31 of Russia’s constitution.
“I, along with all the citizens of our country, have a right to assemble wherever we like, freely, without weapons, without anything and to voice our opinion. And we are not allowed to do it,” said demonstrator Maria Orlovskaya in Moscow.
President Medvedev has made it slightly easier for groups other than the ruling United Russia Party to field candidates and win seats. But critics say the changes are cosmetic.
December’s parliamentary election will set the scene for next year’s presidential poll. It remains unclear whether Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will seek a return to the Kremlin or whether its current boss, Dmitri Medvedev, will run again.