MOSCOW — Three people, including a top aide to Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, were released from custody after being arrested as thousands of people protested in central Moscow for a second day against a controversial plan to raise the retirement age.
Sergei Boiko, chair of Navalny’s Russian Libertarian Party, wrote on Twitter that he had been released after an "administrative offense protocol" had been filed against him and that a hearing had been set for August 2.
Boiko included a photo that appeared to show him being applauded by supporters after leaving police detention.
Hours earlier, he had posted a picture on his Twitter feed of himself; Oleg Stepanov, an aide of the opposition politician; and rally leader Mikhail Chichkov sitting in police custody on July 29.
"Sitting in a paddywagon as part of a good campaign," he said in the caption of the tweet.
Libertarian Party officials were quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that "all of the rally organizers detained earlier in the afternoon have now been released."
Stepanov wrote on Twitter that he had been cited for shouting a slogan that did not correspond to the declared subject of the event.
"The reason for my detention and the protocol: shouting ‘Putin Vor’ [‘Putin the Thief"]," he wrote.
"We should not have doubts — the main culprit for raising the retirement age [is President Vladimir] Putin," he added.
Navalny,an anticorruption crusader and vocal Kremlin foe, has often been jailed himself. He was barred from running in the March 18 presidential election because of criminal convictions he and his supporters say were fabricated to keep him out of electoral politics.
Police on July 29 said the rally authorized by the Moscow authorities and involving 2,500 participants took place on Sakharov Avenue.
White Counter, an independent activist group that tracks turnout at demonstrations, estimated that 6,000 people took part in the protest.
The protesters carried flags and symbols of the Libertarian Party of Russia, the Yabloko and Democratic Choice parties, the Open Russia movement, anarchist and feminist movements, as well as Navalny supporters, Interfax reported.
The Moscow action comes a day after tens of thousands of Russians rallied in dozens of cities and towns across the country to protest against legislation under consideration to raise the retirement age to 65 for men by 2028 and 63 for women by 2034. Currently, the retirement age for men and women is 60 and 55 years, respectively.
The protests — some of the largest to date — were the latest indication of how politically dangerous the proposal has been for President Vladimir Putin and the government of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Putin’s Ratings Down
Government officials have warned for years that pension age needed to rise, to take account the country’s demographics, labor force, and projected budgets.
But critics have said that the retirement age in many regions is higher than life expectancy, which according to the World Bank, is 71, as of 2016, up from 65 in 2003.
Adding to the criticism is the fact that the proposal was released by the cabinet on the eve of the opening of last month’s World Cup. Many critics accused the government of trying to slip it past Russians focused on the soccer tournament.
On July 28 in Moscow, organizers said up to 100,000 people gathered for a permitted rally against the government-backed reform. Observers said the turnout was much lower.
Demonstrators chanted "Hands off pensions Putin!" and carried banners with slogans including "We want to live on our pensions and not die at work."
Putin’s public opinion ratings have slipped noticeably since the proposal’s release. Last week he tried to tamp down criticism, saying that he would listen to "all opinions" on the matter.
More than 2.8 million people have signed a petition against the reform on Change.org.
With reporting by Interfax and TASS
Source: Radio Free Europe