Furgal, a highly popular local politician and member of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of orchestrating the murder of business rivals back in the 2000s. Shortly after he was detained and transferred to Moscow to face official charges, several massive rallies rocked Khabarovsk, a city of more than 600,000 people.
Protesters marched through the city center all the way down to Lenin Square, where the regional government is headquartered. People tagged along as the procession moved on, with drivers of passing cars honking to signal support.
Although not sanctioned by the authorities, the rally was markedly peaceful, with no scuffles or violence reported. The mayor’s office said officers were even handing out face masks as a precaution, during a Covid-19 epidemic that still holds a grip on Russia’s Far East.
Khabarovsk authorities estimated that roughly 10,000 people joined the protest march, and that it had “got noticeably thinner” by the end. Local media suggested that the number was higher, some even saying that up to 50,000 had taken part; that number, however, could not immediately be verified.
Furgal, who proceeded from a career in medicine to trading scrap metal, rose through the ranks of the LDPR, serving as MP and later running for governor in 2018. Once he assumed office, the new governor made some appeals to the public, including diverting more money for school breakfasts and welfare programs.
The embattled governor, who sits in pre-trial detention in Moscow, denies any involvement in the crimes. His lawyer previously said he does not approve of staging protests in Khabarovsk – although he is thankful for the popular support. Many protesters believe the grave charges brought forward by Russia’s law enforcement agencies are selective and doubt their reliability. The Investigative Committee, however, maintains it has witness accounts and “irrefutable evidence” that ties Furgal to the assassinations in 2004 and 2005 of two rival businessmen.