Russian police detain journalists and protesters in Moscow

A demonstration by wives of soldiers fighting in Ukraine was disrupted by the police on Saturday, who arrested at least 20 journalists who were covering the event in Moscow’s Red Square.

On Saturday, a demonstration in Moscow’s Red Square by wives of soldiers fighting in Ukraine resulted in the detention of at least 20 journalists by Russian police.

An AFP reporter, who was among the detainees, said that he was in a van with 20 to 25 other journalists, including some from foreign media, heading to a police station in the capital. The journalists were arrested while they were reporting and filming the women’s march towards the Red Square. Police were seen escorting journalists in yellow press vests into police vans on video footage.

The wives of the soldiers have been protesting outside the Kremlin walls for several weeks, asking for their husbands to be brought back. The protest movement emerged from the frustration of relatives of reservists who were sent to Ukraine under a mobilization decree issued by President Vladimir Putin in September 2022.

The movement has been largely ignored by the state media and tolerated by the authorities, who have strict censorship laws. The Sota portal reported that most of the detainees were journalists from Russian and foreign media who were covering the event and who were taken to the police station in police vans.

The police targeted anyone who had taken pictures or videos of the women placing flowers on the tomb of the unknown soldier, near the Kremlin walls, according to the Sirena Telegram channel. The police also arrested reporters, mostly men, who were wearing press vests.

OVD-Info, an organization that monitors the rights of detained activists, said that one of the protesters and a human rights defender were also among the detainees. The demonstration was organized by a movement composed of wives, mothers and sisters of mobilized soldiers. The movement called for unity and invited all concerned and sympathetic citizens to wear white scarves or shawls and bring carnations to the tomb of the unknown soldier.

The movement also demanded an end to the indefinite mobilization, which President Putin, who mobilized 300,000 reservists in September 2022 and has refused to meet with the wives, has not agreed to do so far.

They said that anyone could be the next one to be mobilized and that it was everyone’s duty to save their fellow citizens from the bloodshed.

The issue is very sensitive for the Kremlin, which is facing the presidential elections in March, in which Putin is seeking a fifth term in office. The authorities have been careful not to crack down on the protest movement, which has received little attention from the Russian media.

The Kremlin has been trying to maintain an image of unity around President Putin, who is expected to win the elections in March 2024.

Putin said that there are 244,000 troops fighting in Ukraine, out of a total of 617,000 soldiers.

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