Independent NGO White Counter says some 22,500 people rallied yesterday to protest against the exclusion of dozens of independent candidates from the city council elections. Police put the number at 12,000.
“I haven’t been to such a huge rally since 2012,” tweeted Alexei Navalny, the leader of the opposition, after he attended the protest.
“I am very happy that tens of thousands of Muscovites did not remain silent, did not swallow humiliation, and came out to express their anger.”
The protest – which was authorised by authorities – caps a week of smaller demonstrations against the decision of the electoral commission to bar some 30 high-profile independent candidates, all outspoken critics of the Kremlin, from standing for election to the Moscow Duma.
Candidates have to collect around 5,000 signatures from city residents to be allowed to run in Moscow’s local elections. While all of the candidates did, the electoral commission said some of the signatures were fake or belonged to dead people.
Candidates and their supporters deny the allegation. Some of the people who gave their signatures used social media to prove that they are not dead.
Lyubov Sobol, an investigative lawyer who was prevented from running, wrote on Twitter that the electoral commission even denounced her sister’s signature as a fake.
Ms Sobol has been on hunger strike for over a week to protest against the decision to bar her from running.
The Moscow Times reported that Mr Navalny called for another protest on Saturday in front of city hall, near the Kremlin, if the election commission does not backtrack on its decision.
“I am glad that in our city there are people who do not want to obediently accept when their signatures are declared fake, and they themselves dead or non-existent,” he wrote on his website.
But a protest near the Kremlin is unlikely to be authorised, which might result in mass detention – or low turnout.
Last weekend, some 1,000 rallied to support the candidates and authorities briefly detained about 40.
Russian laws passed in recent years have made it more difficult for independent candidates to run for office.
The protests come after Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings dropped and Russians’ living standards declined.