The municipal authorities in a Moscow city district denied on Friday they were forcing school heads to send employees to a rally on Saturday in support of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s presidential election campaign.
“The principal position of the prefecture and prefect Valery Vinogradov is that participation in any public events is fully voluntary,” the northeast Moscow prefecture said in a statement on its website.
Over the past two weeks, school teachers and postal employees in Moscow have alleged they are being ordered to attend Saturday’s rally.
The southeastern prefecture, alleged to have issued orders to marshal 180 employees for the rally in Moscow’s Poklonnaya Gora park, was not available for comment.
The city government’s education department also denied any commands had been given.
The rally’s organizing committee earlier acknowledged that some people had been told to attend, but said it was at local officials’ “own initiative.”
“Some will come themselves, but others use their own mechanisms and levers for the event to happen. Somebody can pay people to go,” committee member Dmitry Galochkin told the liberal Dozhd TV channel on Wednesday.
The liberal Yabloko party asked prosecutors on Thursday to probe the allegations of intimidation.
The pro-Putin demonstration will take place at the same time, but at a different site, as a mass opposition rally near Red Square.
Claims of fraud in favor of Putin’s United Russia party at December’s parliamentary polls have sparked the biggest anti-government protests seen in Russia in decades.
The February 4 rallies come a month before a crucial presidential election which is expected to land Putin with a third stint in the Kremlin. But while the state-run polling agency, VTsIOM, suggests he is still Russia’s most popular politician, analysts have said growing public discontent could see him forced into a runoff vote.
Almost 30,000 people have pledged on social networks to attend Saturday’s opposition protest.
Moscow schools will hold a “career training day” tomorrow, a move that activists claim is aimed at preventing students from joining in the demonstrations.