Russian activist Roman Dobrokhotov was arrested and later allegedly beaten for attempting to stage an anti-Putin prayer at Moscow’s landmark Christ the Savior Cathedral on Sunday.
Dobrokhotov planned to pray for Russia to be delivered from the rule of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, but was detained by riot police just metres from the entrance.
The officers forced Dobrokhotov, a youth movement leader with a reputation for heckling at the Kremlin, into a cruiser as Putin supporters from the militant Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers hurled insults and holy water.
Another activist — Mariya Baronova of the Resistance anti-Kremlin group — managed to enter the cathedral but was soon confronted by a group of men, including Orthodox priests, who tried to usher her out.
Dobrokhotov said he was later assaulted by seven men as he left the police station.
"Luckily, police interrupted them and detained one of them," Dobrokhotov told The Associated Press, adding that the attackers damaged his ear.
Russian news source Ria Novosti reports that Sunday’s protest was a show of solidarity with Feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot, whose members face up to seven years in jail for staging a defiant "punk prayer" at same cathedral in February.
The balaclava-wearing women chanted a song that contained lines like "Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin, chase Putin out!" — words that Dobrokhotov was expected to repeat.
A Russian court ruled in March that two members of the all-woman band must remain in jail until their trial for hooliganism begins.
Putin swept March's federal election to return to the Kremlin and extend his hold over Russia for six more years — a win surrounded by allegations of vote-rigging and opposition to his heavy-handed style of rule.
On May 9, Putin will swap positions with President Dmitry Medvedev, a controversial move that had fanned the flames of anti-Kremlin sentiment.