Russian police detained over 2,700 people in Moscow and other cities on Sunday as supporters of Alexei Navalny braved the bitter cold and a massive show of police force to demand he be set free.
According to OVD-Info, a protest monitoring group, 2,737 people were arrested nationwide, including 681 in Moscow.
Yulia Navalnaya, the Navalny’s wife, was among those detained.
“If we stay quiet, then they could come for any of us tomorrow,” she wrote on Instagram before joining the protests.
The figures of arrests were expected to rise.
The nationwide rallies are the second straight weekend of protests that are part of a high-risk opposition campaign to try to pressure the Kremlin into freeing President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent.
Navalny, the opposition politician was arrested on Jan. 17 after returning to Moscow from Germany where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning in Russia last summer.
He accuses Putin of corruption and ordering his murder, which the Kremlin denies.
Navalny’s dramatic return to Moscow despite the obvious threat of arrest and the protests that his jailing has sparked pose a major challenge for Putin who has dominated the Russian political landscape for over two decades.
In a highly unusual move, police imposed a security lockdown in the heart of the capital on Sunday, sealing off streets to pedestrians near the Kremlin, closing metro stations and deploying hundreds of riot police as snow fell.
Yulia, a 40-year-old protester in Moscow, said she had joined the rallies despite having a panic attack the night before because of worrying about repercussions for taking part.
“I understand that I live in a totally lawless state. In a police state, with no independent courts. In a country ruled by corruption. I would like to live differently,” she said.
Police have said the protests were illegal as they had not been authorised and would be broken up.
Authorities have said demonstrators could spread COVID-19.
At one point a column of protesters marched towards the prison in northern Moscow where Navalny is being held, chanting “Let him go!”
Police put turnout at the Moscow protest at around 2,000 people.
Reuters reporters estimated crowds of several thousand that were smaller than last weekend when police estimated 4,000 people and the opposition put the figure at 50,000, an assertion the authorities dismissed as nowhere near the truth.