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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Hold Human Rights Watch Officer

Police detained the deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Moscow branch and two opposition activists Thursday as they headed to a Dissenters' March in Samara.

Also Thursday, the leaders of The Other Russia opposition coalition, which organized the march, criticized what they called unprecedented police repression.

At least 13 people connected to the city-sanctioned march had been detained before Thursday.

"In light of the detentions by police, a demonstration of any size in Samara would be a great achievement," Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Red Youth Vanguard and a march organizer, said at a news conference in Moscow.

About two hours after the news conference, Udaltsov was detained at Kazansky Station, where he had tickets to board a train for Samara, said Marina Litvinovich, a spokeswoman for The Other Russia.

Udaltsov could not be reached for comment.

At Sheremetyevo Airport, Alexander Petrov, of Human Rights Watch, was detained at around 1 p.m. as he was waiting to check in for a flight to Samara to observe the march Friday.

Petrov said three police officers -- one in plainclothes and two in uniform -- approached him and accused him of having false tickets and a false passport.

The officers took him to a police station in the Sheremetyevo-1 terminal, where they questioned him for two hours about the march, he said.

The questioning ended when Petrov received a call on his cell phone from Ella Pamfilova, head of President Vladimir Putin's Human Rights Council, he said.

"They all ran away," Petrov said by telephone minutes after his release. "So I grabbed my passport and left of my own accord."

Sheremetyevo police could not be reached for comment.

Human Rights Watch's Moscow director, Alison Gill, said the group had "never encountered a problem like this."

In Samara, police detained Denis Bilunov, another Other Russia leader, after he arrived on a train from Moscow at around 3 p.m.

An Interior Ministry spokeswoman in Samara said that two undercover officers found Bilunov carrying more than 100,000 rubles in 1,000 ruble notes.

"The officers suspected the money was counterfeit, so they confiscated it and sent it for forensic testing," the spokeswoman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Bilunov was held at the Samara district police station and later released, she said.

Bilunov, reached by telephone, said, "I cannot speak now," and hung up.

At the news conference, Garry Kasparov, Other Russia leader and former world chess champion, said authorities were trying to prevent people from participating in the march.

"We're not sure we will even get there ourselves," he said. "We fear but are ready for more police provocations."

Kasparov, who intended to fly to Samara from Sheremetyevo on Friday morning with other leaders and a group of journalists, said the plane might be overbooked or grounded over a mechanical problem.

But Kasparov and company may experience problems even if they manage to take off: The pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi will send four activists on the plane to "act as medics because Kasparov is developing certain psychological problems and could go mad in a closed environment such as a cabin," Nashi spokeswoman Anastasia Suslova said.

Eduard Limonov, a founder of the banned National Bolshevik Party, said at the news conference that the police action showed that the opposition had "finally grown some teeth."

"It will be a war of nerves, a war of strength," he said of the march. "But it will be peaceful."

Kasparov also announced that The Other Russia would hold a march in St. Petersburg on June 9 to coincide with the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, in Moscow on June 11, and in Voronezh in early June.

Friday's march, which Samara authorities only approved after a protest from the European Union, coincides with a Russia-EU summit at a resort between Samara and Tolyatti.