Moscow police detained on Tuesday tens of people at a march to mark the first anniversary of the murders of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, who were gunned down by neo-Nazis.
Human rights lawyer Markelov, 34, and Novaya Gazeta journalist Anastasia Baburova, 25, were shot on January 19, 2009 in downtown Moscow, just a short distance from the Christ the Savior Cathedral. Markelov died at the scene and Baburova lost her struggle for life shortly afterwards in hospital.
Last November, Nikolai Tikhonov, 29, and Yevgenia Khasis, 24, members of a radical neo-Nazi nationalist group, were charged with the murders, which made headlines all over the world and once again highlighted the dangers faced by journalists and human rights activists in modern Russia.
The Moscow authorities had given permission for a rally in central Moscow, but police moved in when a group broke away and began marching along Petrovsky Boulevard to the Chistie Prudi area.
Police said some 200 people had taken part in the rally. But Novaya Gazeta reported that 500 people had braved minus 20 degrees Celsius temperatures and "some ten buses full of OMON riot police" to mark the anniversary of the killings. Participants carried photos of Markelov and Baburova, and chanted anti-fascist slogans.
Smoke bombs were set off at one point as protestors attempted to unfold a banner, orange smoke drifting upwards into the frozen night.
A police spokesman told RIA Novosti that 20 people had been detained, while Novaya Gazeta and other sources said there had been around 60 arrests. 18 of those detained have already been released after negotiations between police and the organizers of the march, Novaya Gaeta said.
The authorities in Moscow have a record of clamping down on unauthorized rallies. 82-year-old Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alekseyeva, a 2009 winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, saw in the New Year in police custody because of an unauthorized protest in the city. She and some 50 other human rights activists were arrested on December 31 when they attempted to hold a "March of Dissent" in central Moscow several hours before New Year.
Alekseyeva, along with For Human Rights movement leader Lev Ponomaryov, was among the organizers of Tuesday's rally.