Some 20,000 Russian opposition supporters demand the release of political prisoners in Moscow, Russia, on Sunday. Photo by Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA-EFE
Sept. 30 (UPI) -- Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow, demanding the government release protesters arrested in connection to opposition demonstrations over the summer.
It was the first mass protest since controversial elections on Sept. 8.
The election was the cause of disturbance in the city this past summer, as near-weekly protests erupted against the government's decision to bar opposition candidates from running for the 45-seat Moscow City Duma Parliament.
In response, police conducted a mass crackdown, detaining thousands of protesters, some who remain behind bars.
Of 14 protesters facing up to eight years in prison, six were recently released by prosecutors, encouraging activist organizers to increase the pressure on authorities, The Moscow Times reported.
"Why did they release those they have released," opposition leader Alexei Navalny told the crowd of about 20,000 people assembled in Moscow. "Because they are scared of falling ratings. Because they see people won't support them for this."
Russian President Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party took a hit during the recent Moscow election, losing 15 of its 40 seats in the Duma.
On Sunday, the protest movement shifted from the elections to protesting political repression, as activists demanded authorities to end their raids and arrests of Navalny as police earlier this month searched his regional offices and the homes of dozens of his staff and supporters.
He was also released from jail late August after completing a 30-day sentence for urging the public to join an unsanctioned protest during the summer.
"We should be confident of our power," Navalny said. "If we make a show of force, we will win their release."
So far, seven people have been sentenced to prison terms from two to five years in connection to the summer protests.