Hundreds of supporters of a jailed rights activist staged a protest on Friday (Jan 19) in the capital of Russia’s Bashkortostan republic and police detained at least seven people, a Russian news outlet reported from the scene.
The gathering in the city of Ufa took place in defiance of the region’s leader, Radiy Khabirov, who has warned of tough action against what he called extremists and traitors.
Russian-language outlet SOTA Vision published video showing police warning people through a loudhailer that they would be arrested if they took part in an unauthorised gathering.
It showed one woman being led away by police despite demonstrations from people nearby. Police linked arms in a human chain to clear the way for a bus carrying detained people, as onlookers chanted “Shame!”
Bashkortostan, in the southern Ural mountains near the border between Europe and Asia, is one of more than 80 republics and regions that make up the Russian Federation.
It was the third protest this week, but the first in the regional capital, in support of minority rights activist Fail Alsynov, who was sentenced on Wednesday to four years in a penal colony on charges of stirring ethnic hatred, which he denied.
Alsynov, 37, is regarded as a hero by many of the region’s ethnic Bashkir people for campaigning on behalf of their language, culture and rights. He led successful protests in 2020 to prevent the start of mining operations on a hill that Bashkir people consider sacred.
Last year he spoke out against the recruitment of ethnic Bashkirs to fight for Russia in Ukraine, saying “this is not our war”.
Public protests in Russia are very rare given the risk of arrest, especially since the start of the war. The timing is all the more sensitive given that President Vladimir Putin is standing for a new six-year term in March.
While his victory is not in doubt, analysts say there is pressure on regional leader Khabirov to keep the situation under tight control to prevent embarrassment to the Kremlin during an election campaign.