A group of well-known Russian journalists were arrested in Moscow on Thursday as they took part in single-person protests over a 15-day jail term handed down to a colleague.
Council of Europe Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic said she was greatly dismayed and called for their release.
The journalists were taking part in single pickets – the only protest allowed without authorities’ approval.
They accused police of using the Covid-19 outbreak to crack down on activists.
The journalists detained mostly work for independent media outlets. Most have now been released, but charged with various offences.
Why did the protests begin?
Ilya Azar, a journalist and councillor who works for opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was arrested on Tuesday in a protest against the detention of an ex-policeman who campaigns against police corruption. Azar was given 15 days in jail on Thursday for breaking protest laws.
Fellow journalists stood separately outside the interior ministry before police intervened.
Among those held were Ekho Moskvy radio journalists Alexander Plyushchev and Tatyana Felgengauer, who was stabbed in the neck by an attacker in her newsroom in 2017.
Plyushchev said police had told them that all public events were banned during the pandemic.
TV presenter Mikhail Fishman, and editors Sergei Smirnov and Anastasia Lotareva were also detained, as were photojournalist Viktoria Ivleva and journalist Ilya Vasyunin, reports said.
Smirnov posted a photo of himself and Felgengauer in police custody, saying “hello everyone”.
Further arrests were also reported in St Petersburg.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny complained that Azar had had every right to carry out his original protest “according to the law, constitution, and common sense. None of these three things exists in Russia right now”.
Russia has seen one of the biggest outbreaks of coronavirus in the world, with an official number of 379,051 infections and 4,142 deaths. On Thursday, 8,371 new cases were reported.
Moscow has been at the heart of the epidemic and is still under lockdown. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said some of the restrictions would be eased on 1 June, enabling residents to leave their homes for regular walks and leisure activities.
Most parks and some non-essential shops and businesses, such as car dealerships and laundrettes, will reopen.