More than 750 people have been arrested in cities across Russia for protesting against Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which is now in its third week.
Independent monitoring group OVD-Info said police had arrested at least 756 people during demonstrations in 37 Russian cities – with about half of them in the Russian capital Moscow.
Since President Vladimir Putin ordered a land, air and sea invasion of Ukraine on February 24, OVD-Info has reported more than 14,000 arrests in connection with anti-war actions, according to its website. Of these, more than 170 people have been remanded in custody.
The Kremlin passed a law brought into force on March 4 criminalising independent war reporting and protests against the war, with penalties of up to 15 years in prison.
“It’s very difficult for people to go to the streets and protest,” said Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Moscow.
“Anyone trying to go out or looking like a protester has been violently dragged away,” he said, adding that in one instance, a woman was dragged away just for holding a blank piece of white paper.
An AFP news agency journalist present at a protest in the capital Moscow witnessed at least a dozen arrests and said police were taking away anybody without press papers.
A young woman was shouting “peace to the world” as she was taken away by two policemen, according to AFP.
Some of the riot police had the letter “Z” in the colours of the Russian flag on their helmets, the AFP reporter said. The letter, seen on Russian tanks in Ukraine, has become a symbol of support for what Moscow calls its “special military operation” to “denazify” Ukraine.
We look at why the letter ‘Z’ has been embraced by supporters of Russia’s war in Ukraine ⤵️
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) March 13, 2022
In Russia’s second city Saint Petersburg, AFP reported multiple arrests, including that of a protester who was dragged across the ground. The city’s central Nevsky Avenue was closed off by police, with a dozen police vans parked along the road. According to AFP, several journalists were also detained.
Dressed in a yellow hat and blue jacket, 20-year-old Kristina said she was “expressing her protest” by wearing the colours of the Ukrainian flag.
“It’s scary to go outside, of course, they are detaining everyone. Many of my friends have been detained in the past few days, some were even expelled from university,” she told AFP.
Last weekend, police arrested more than 5,000 protesters across Russia.