The Russian opposition movement founded by exiled Kremlin critic and oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky protested President Vladimir Putin in 32 cities Saturday, despite the fact that authorities have banned the movement and declared it illegal, and police have raided its Moscow offices.
The main rally in Moscow had a few hundred protesters gathering in a park before moving to an administrative building nearby, where they submitted a letter urging Putin not to run for a fourth term in 2018.
In St. Petersburg, though, police arrested a few dozen protesters after about 200 of them gathered for an unsanctioned demonstration.
The demonstrations Saturday come on the heels of a large protest in March – the largest unauthorized rally in recent years – that saw more than 1,000 people arrested, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Russian authorities have not simply warned opposition group Open Russia not to conduct any activities, but have blacklisted the group.
The Russian prosecutor general’s office Wednesday declared Open Russia and two other groups founded by Khodorkovsky to be “undesirable” organizations. The three organizations are the U.K.-registered Open Russia, the U.S.-based Institute of Modern Russia, and a social movement that also uses the Open Russia name.
The “undesirable” designation bans them from operating inside Russia, with any violation punishable by fines and jail time.
Police raided the group’s offices in Moscow Friday, prior to Saturday’s protest.
Maria Galitskaya, a spokeswoman for Open Russia told VOA she thinks the raid was politically motivated.
“One [of the police officers] started breaking open the doors of the rooms and desk drawers, though there was nothing illegitimate in the office,” she said. “It is difficult to talk about the real reasons of the search but we connect that with tomorrow’s action and think that this is an effort at intimidation.”