MOSCOW — Thousands of people swept through snowy central Moscow on Sunday to express their anger with President Vladimir Putin’s approval of a ban on American families’ adoptions of Russian children.
“Leave the children alone,” protesters chanted as they filled tree-lined boulevards a short distance from the Kremlin while a police helicopter buzzed above. Some protesters carried placards depicting Mr. Putin as a child killer.
Organizers said about 50,000 people attended the rally, while police said the figure was fewer than 10,000. Bloggers and independent media later cast scorn on the police estimate. Nine people were arrested on public-disorder offenses, police said.
“This ban disgraces us in the eyes of the world,” said protester Andrei Titov, a businessman. “The authorities are playing politics with the lives of the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Protesters also called for the dissolution of parliament, which voted almost unanimously for the ban last month. Scores of demonstrators hurled placards with images of lawmakers into a waiting garbage bin at the end of the rally.
“The people who voted for and approved of this ban are not human,” said homemaker Tamara Goluba, 23.
Orphans at risk
Opponents of the ban say it means thousands of Russian children — many with serious illnesses — will languish in underfunded and often dangerous state orphanages. Some 130,000 children were eligible for adoption last year and less than 10 percent found homes with Russian families, according to government figures.
More than 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by American families in the past 20 years, including about 1,000 in 2011, according to U.S. State Department figures.
Russian lawmakers justified the ban by citing the deaths of 19 of those children at the hands of their adoptive parents in the U.S. since 1999. The ban was first proposed in earnest in April 2010 after an American woman put her 7-year-old adopted son alone on a plane back to Russia with a note saying she could not control him.
The adoption ban, which came into force on Jan. 1, is part of Russia’s broader response to the U.S. Magnitsky law, which introduces sanctions against Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses. The Kremlin called the law a “purely political, unfriendly act.”
The law is named for Sergei Magnitsky, a whistle-blowing lawyer allegedly beaten to death in a Moscow pretrial detention center in 2009. Russian courts have not punished anyone in the case.
Mr. Putin called the adoption ban an “adequate” response to the Magnitsky law before signing the Russian bill into law late last year. The United States said it deeply regretted Russia’s move, calling it “politically motivated.”
Famous Russian actors and writers slammed the ban in the week leading up to Sunday’s protest and called on people to take to the streets.
“[This] petty vengefulness cannot go unanswered by society,” poet Lev Rubinstein said in a video address uploaded to social networks.