Mass rallies challenging the Kremlin have rocked the Russia’s Far East city of Khabarovsk, with tens of thousands taking to the streets to protest the arrest of the region’s governor on charges of involvement in multiple murders.
The massive unauthorised crowds gathered despite local officials’ attempts to discourage people from taking to the streets, citing the coronavirus epidemic and an alleged averted terrorist threat.
Local media estimated the rally in the city drew 15,000 to 50,000 people, while city authorities put the number at 10,000.
Hundreds of people have rallied in the city every day this week against the arrest of Sergei Furgal, reflecting widespread anger over the arrest of the popular governor and a simmering discontent with the Kremlin’s policies.
Furgal, the Khabarovsk region governor, was arrested on July 9 and flown to Moscow where he was put in jail for two months.
Sergei Furgal: The arrest fuelling anti-Moscow anger in Russia's far east https://t.co/dmqluBfpXs
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) July 17, 2020
Russia’s Investigative Committee says he is suspected of involvement in several murders of businessmen in 2004 and 2005.
Furgal has denied the charges, which relate to his time as an importer of consumer goods ranging from timber and metals.
Khabarovsk residents dismissed the charges against him as unsubstantiated and denounced the Kremlin for targeting a governor they elected.
“It’s not only about this (whether Furgal arrest is legal or not). People are fed up with the way we are treated, that they can simply take away our choice,” protester Mikhail Yerashchenko told the Associated Press on Saturday.
A member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, Furgal was elected governor in 2018, defeating the Kremlin-backed incumbent.
During his two years in office, Furgal earned a reputation of being “the people’s governor”.
He cut his own salary, ordered the sale of an expensive yacht that the previous administration bought, met with protesters when rallies happened and significantly reduced flight fares for residents in remote areas.