A masked intruder has tried to attack the head of Russia’s electoral commission with an electroshock weapon two days before elections that have sparked the biggest protests in years. 

The interior ministry said the suspected robber got into the terrace of Ella Pamfilova’s home through a window in the early hours of Friday morning and “hit the owner repeatedly with an electroshocker” before fleeing. It has opened a criminal case for burglary under the special control of ministry leadership. 

Interfax news agency quoted a law enforcement source as saying Ms Pamfilova did not actually receive an electric shock, probably because the device did not function correctly. She beat the assailant off with a chair, the source said.

Other media reported that the attacker had forgotten to turn on the electroshocker.

Asked about the incident at a conference on Friday morning, she would only say: “Everything is okay, I’ll survive”.

The central electoral commission chairwoman has been in the news frequently as nearly two dozen liberal opposition candidates were barred from running for Moscow city council in Sunday’s election. 

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets several weekends this summer demanding that the candidates be allowed to run. 

More than 2,700 were arrested, often by baton-swinging riot police. This week, four men have been given prison terms of several years on dubious charges of violence against police officers, and another was sentenced to four years for repeatedly participating in protests.

Police detain a protester on August 3Credit:
Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Moscow has ordered £3.2 million worth of facial recognition technology for CCTV cameras and will begin regularly monitoring mass gatherings, it was reported on Friday. Since 2017 the city has been installing facial recognition software on its vast network of cameras, which it plans to expand from 160,000 to 200,000 this year. 

Dozens of criminal suspects have been identified and arrested through the system, but many worry it will be turned against critics of the Kremlin.

A former minister of social affairs, MP and presidential human rights ombudswoman, Ms Pamfilova was supposed to usher in cleaner elections when she took over the commission in 2016. Instead she became the face of draconian regulations to stand for office, while ballot-stuffing remains a problem in many parts of the country.

When turning down appeals to register liberal opposition candidates this summer, she argued that they had made errors in their registration documents, including falsifying voters’ signatures.

But many of these were trivial, such as drawing a line rather than writing “no” in a box, and several voters have said their signatures were invalidated even though they actually support the politicians. 

Candidates backed by the ruling United Russia party had far fewer problems with their documents.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has called on supporters to vote for alternative candidates, mostly communists, to beat the ruling party.  

Ms Pamfilova argues with Lyubov Sobol, an ally of opposition leader Alexei Navalny who was barred from running, during a hearing in JulyCredit:
Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Ms Pamfilova admitted to AP that Russia’s electoral legislation was “outdated,” but later called the article “propaganda with elements of censorship,” even though the interview was also published in video form.

She has received little sympathy from online commentators after the attack. 

“Being hit by a dysfunctional electroshocker is probably even more terrifying than being struck directly by a paper cup. Officials in Russia are suffering hideous terror,” Amnesty International’s Oleg Kozlovsky tweeted, referring to a protester who was famously arrested on July 27 for throwing a Burger King cup at riot police. 

Mr Kozlovsky himself was kidnapped and beaten while observing protests in Russia’s Ingushetia region last year.

“The robbery of Pamfilova ended up being just as disastrous, awkward and laughable as the Moscow elections,” tweeted Roman Dobrokhotov, editor of The Insider.

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