Protesters In Russia’s Far East Demand Release Of Regional Governor Charged With Murders

File Photos of Law Books and Gavel, adapted from image at fjc.gov

(Article text ©2020 RFE/RL, Inc., Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – rferl.org – KHABAROVSK, Russia, July 13, 2020 – article text also appeared at rferl.org/a/protests-continue-in-russian-far-east-demanding-release-of-regional-governor-charged-with-murders/30723786.html)

Hundreds of demonstrators have continued to peacefully protest in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk, demanding the release of the region’s governor Sergei Furgal, who was arrested last week on charges of attempted murder and ordering the killings of two businessmen in 2004-2005.

The protesters marched across the city on July 13 demanding Furgal’s release. They had planned to hold a big gathering on the central Lenin Square, but local officials started washing the cobblestones and therefore the protesters decided to march across the city.

After police asked them not to block the streets for public transportation, the protesters began marching on sidewalks, holding posters saying “We Are For Furgal,” “Freedom To Furgal,” “We Are The Power Here.”

Some protesters chanted slogans against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Other people were joining the protesters as they marched, while drivers of vehicles signaled their support.

The number of protesters was less than that at previous rallies, where tens of thousands gathered in support of Furgal over the weekend in Khabarovsk.

Following the rallies, the presidential envoy to the Far East Territory, Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, arrived in Khabarovsk and met with local authorities.

Reports in the Kommersant daily said Trutnev had accused local officials of organizing the mass protests over the weekend. According to some estimates, as many as 35,000 people participated in the rallies.

After the meeting with local officials, Trutnev told reporters that he arrived to the region “to check on the work of regional officials in the governor’s absence.”

Trutnev said that law enforcement structures would not arrest Furgal “without a 100 percent reason,” adding though that ordinary citizens “have a right to express their opinions freely.”

On July 12, thousands of demonstrators in Khabarovsk, the capital of the Khabarovsk region, marched to the regional headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), chanting “Free Furgal.”

The street protests and angry political sentiment against the Kremlin were unusual given how far Khabarovsk is from the Russian capital and given how the Kremlin has marginalized all political opposition in the country. The protests were also the largest in the country since a national vote that has set the stage for Putin to remain in power until 2036.

Smaller rallies were also held in the military industrial city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur and other towns in the region.

On July 10, a Moscow court ordered Furgal to be held in pretrial detention for two months.

The 50-year-old member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), led by nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of businessman Aleksandr Smolsky and ordering the murders of two businessmen, Yevgeny Zorya and Oleg Bulatov in 2004-2005.

Zhirinovsky wrote on Telegram on July 13 that Furgal’s arrest was linked to his being a member of “an opposition party [and] one of the five most popular regional governors in Russia.”

In another post, Zhirinovsky wrote his party supports the protesters in Khabarovsk, but added that the LDPR would never call on people to take part in unsanctioned demonstrations.

Furgal won a surprise victory over the Kremlin favorite Vyacheslav Shport in 2018 in a major upset for the ruling United Russia party.

[featured image is file photo from another occasion]