Environmental activists in the Russian city of Kazan said Wednesday that they were detained by police as they planned a protest before the Confederations Cup draw.
Iskander Yaseveyev, an academic and environmental campaigner, told The Associated Press that he and six others were stopped by police ahead of the draw last Saturday, and held for three hours until the event was over.
Yaseveyev said police from a counter-extremism unit approached him and asked him to come with them for a talk, and when he refused, they called colleagues who detained him because they said he resembled a wanted criminal.
Three of those held, including Yaseveyev, planned to protest outside the draw venue against the expansion of a stadium parking lot, which they say would destroy a meadow which is home to rare animal species. The other four included a biologist, who was leading a tour of the meadow for three other locals.
They were detained in various locations well away from the draw venue. “I was stopped a few hundred meters from my house and that shows that I’d been under surveillance from the counter-extremism unit,” Yaseveyev said. There were no complaints of police violence.
Russian counter-extremism units, which are ostensibly focused on tracking potentially violent political and religious groups, have frequently been criticized for taking part in crackdowns against opposition members.
“FIFA fully respects and supports the right of freedom of expression,” a spokesperson for football’s world governing body said, but referred any other inquiries to local authorities.
Kazan police referred questions to an officer who could not immediately be reached for comment.