Protesters in Russia marched through Moscow on Saturday to demonstrate against Russian President Vladimir Putin in the largest organised opposition rally in the past three months. According to Reuters, tens of thousands demonstrators marched from the central Pushkin Square and past the Kremlin itself, with many people calling for the release of the three members of the infamous punk band Pussy Riot, arrested in May and convicted in August with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
In an interesting turn of events, the current prime minister and previous president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, surprisingly came out in support of the release of the three Pussy Riot members, while parliament also expelled an opposition legislator on Friday.
Medevedev spoke out against the imprisonment of the three jailed Pussy Riot members, calling their actions “sickening: but acknowledging that their continued imprisonment was counter-productive,” the Telegraph reported. “A prison term is a very strict, I would say terrible, responsibility,” said Medevedev. “I wouldn’t want to undermine the judge, but the punishment they have already experienced, the time they’ve spent in prison is long enough to make them think about what happened because of their stupidity or some other reasons,” he continued.
Gennady Gudkov was expelled from parliament on Friday through a vote after prosecutors accused him of violating the law by running a business while holding office, although no criminal charges have yet to be filed. According to The Wall Street Journal, Gudkov denounced his expulsion as the latest step in Kremlin’s “political revenge” against critics. Gudkov is recognised as one of the loudest critics in the parliamentary opposition and has, according to The Wall Street Journal, often used the immunity from prosecution provided by his parliamentary status to intervene on behalf of protesters arrested in past anti-Kremlin rallies.
Protesters chanted “Russia without Putin” while many banners read “Putin is a parasite,” according to Reuters. “We are protesting against the total lawlessness, total corruption, the lack of civil freedoms, the absence of independent courts and social injustice,” Reuters cited Sergei Yevseyev, 35, who works for an international shipping company.
Putin, a former Russian intelligence officer, has held the presidency twice before, from 2000 to 2008, and served as the premier of Russia for the following four years.
By Russian law, a president may not serve more than two consecutive terms. Putin served the two four-year terms and was then appointed as premier before announcing and winning his candidacy for a third, non-consecutive, six-year term in the March elections held this year.
The December 2011 legislative election in Russia, where Putin’s party won a majority, spurred a wave of protests that began in December last year, as opponents criticised his third presidency, claiming election results were rigged to his favour. The Kremlin quickly cracked down on protesters, raising fines for illegal protests and dispersing crowds.