Russia Detains Nemtsov Allies After Refusing Their Candidacy in Local Elections

Authorities in Novosibirsk, central Russia, have detained three members of the Russian opposition, led by the late Boris Nemtsov's Parnas party, after the opposition activists announced a hunger strike over the state's refusal to register them as candidates for the upcoming local elections, according to the activists' social media accounts.

The activists were all members of the so-called Democratic Coalition, a merger announced in April between opposition forces in Russia including Parnas and Party of Progress, which is led by anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny.

The parties united ahead of September's local council elections across Russia, in a bid to campaign together with the possibility of doing the same in the Duma parliamentary elections next year . They began campaigns to collect the required number of signatures to be accepted onto the electoral list last month.

Navalny has called for Russian President Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party to inspect the progress of their collection of signatures regularly so as to avoid a last minute dismissal of their registration on the grounds of formalities. He called Sergey Neverov, a United Russia member, whom Novosibirsk local officials told him was the person overseeing the registration of parties for the election.

"We understand perfectly well that the attempt to keep us from standing for election will be connected with a declaration that our signatures are 'bad', 'fake', 'scribbled' etc. This is what United Russia does all the time," he wrote on his blog in June.

The United Russia representative in Novosibirsk told Navalny he was not immediately available for a meeting and posted the phone number through which Navalny had contacted him on Facebook, expressing doubt if he has spoken to the real Navalny. Subsequently Navalny complained of daily prank calls from social media users.

On Monday evening the electoral commission at Novosibirsk refused the registration of the democratic coalition, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported. Officials on the commission who counted the signatures said they had only accepted 10,187 signatures as genuine, which is 470 signatures too few, while the commission had rejected 1,495 of the opposition coalition's signatures.

According to Russian liberal news site Slon, three activists from the opposition announced a hunger strike while in the electoral commission building in Novosibirsk earlier on Tuesday. Within minutes, however, 20 police officers entered the building and detained the Novosibirsk leader of the Democratic Coalition Leonid Volkov and two activists, Yegor Savin and Sergey Boyko.

Volkov wrote on Twitter that they have since been released and fined up to 1,000 roubles ($17) each for disobedience to a lawful order by a police officer.

Navalny quickly took to his blog to commend the activists, expressing fear that this scenario of discarding signatures could repeat itself in the other two constituencies where opposition parties are due to submit their applications to be accepted as candidates later this month and that it could even recur in September 2016's parliamentary elections.

Parnas deputy leader Ilya Yashin has already reported that the head of the opposition campaign in Kostroma, Andrey Pivovarov, has also been detained on unrelated charges of unlawful access to computer information. "A criminal case against Pivovarov has an obviously political and deliberate character[.] We consider the detention of our friend as a way of putting pressure on the democratic opposition," Yashin wrote on his Facebook page.

The signatures for Kostroma region and Kaluga region have not been counted yet and the final deadline for registering candidates is later this week. The Democratic Coalition is hoping to field candidates in both constituencies.