More than 10,000 people joined protests in Khabarovsk city in Russia’s far east on Saturday demanding the release of popular regional governor Sergei I. Furgal who was arrested on July 9 on suspicion of multiple murders that happened between 2004-2005. According to reports from the Russian media, somewhere between 15,000-50,000 people took part in Saturday’s mass rally in a rare and one of the largest shows of discontent in recent times.
According to the Russian news website Graniru, demonstrators carried banners with slogans such as “Freedom to Furgal”, “Honest Court” and “United Russia” among others.
In a statement released Saturday, the Khabarovsk government said that in an “unauthorised rally”, over 10,000 took part, “30 percent less than last weekend”. “The protesters again walked along the central streets of the city, shouting slogans in support of the arrested governor of the Khabarovsk Territory Sergei Furgal,” the statement said.
So who is Sergei Furgal?
Saturday marked the seventh day of protests in Russia’s far east, wherein demonstrators are demanding Furgal’s release. Sergie is the governor of Khabarovsk region and earlier in July was held in pre-trial detention on the charges of organising the murder of several businessmen 15 years ago. If found guilty Furgal could be sentenced to life in prison.
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Furgal, a member of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia took office in September 2018, after receiving over 70 percent of the votes in the elections. He defeated longtime incumbent Vyacheslav Shport, a member of the United Russia Party that backs Russian President Vladimir Putin. Frugal’s victory was seen as a sign of rising anti-establishment sentiment in the region.
Furgal has denied the allegations against himself and is currently in a prison in Moscow.
What are the protestors demanding?
As per a report in the BBC, the arrest of the governor has sparked resentment against the capital Moscow among people of the region as they see it as a “world away from here (Khabarovsk)”. Therefore, protestors are demanding that Furgal be given a fair trial at his home soil in Khabarovsk.
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Significantly, the protests and Furgal’s arrest have come after nearly 78 percent of Russians backed the constitutional reforms that could keep Putin in power until 2036. According to a Reuters report, the governor’s arrest has fueled a wave of repression following the vote.
Some members of the opposition have denounced the vote and saw it as Putin’s attempt to stay in power for life. Golos, a Russian association that carries out independent election observation called the vote a “PR campaign”, “the purpose of which was not to reveal the free will of citizens, but to form the necessary perception of this will by the authorities.”
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