Over 3,400 people arrested during protests in Russia demanded the release of Alexey Navalny
Russian police arrested more than 3,400 people on Saturday in nationwide protests demanding the release of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, the Kremlin’s most prominent enemy, according to a group that counts political imprisonments.
Protests in dozens of cities at temperatures as low as minus 58 ° F have shown how Navalny has built influence well beyond the political and cultural centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In Moscow, an estimated 15,000 demonstrators gathered on and around Pushkin Square in the city center, where clashes with police broke out and demonstrators were roughly dragged to police buses and detention vehicles by helmetless rioters. Some were beaten with batons.
Navalny’s wife Julia was among those arrested.
The police eventually pushed demonstrators from the square. Thousands then clustered along a wide boulevard about a kilometer away. Many of them threw snowballs at the police before they dispersed.
Some later protested near the prison where Navalny is being held. The police made an indefinite number of arrests there.
The protests stretched across vast areas of Russia, from the island city of Yuzhno-Sakhalininsk north of Japan and the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk to the more populous European cities of Russia. Navalny and his anti-corruption campaign have built an extensive support network despite official repression by the government and routine ignorance from state media.
“The situation is getting worse and worse, it is utter lawlessness,” said Andrei Gorkyov, a protester in Moscow. “And if we keep silent, it will go on forever.”
The OVD-Info group, which monitors political arrests, said at least 941 people were detained in Moscow and more than 350 were detained at another large demonstration in St. Petersburg. A total of 3,454 people were arrested in around 90 cities.
Unimpressed, the supporters of Navalny called for protests again next weekend.
Navalny was arrested on January 17 when he returned to Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering for five months from severe nerve agent poisoning, which he alleges in the Kremlin and which the Russian authorities deny. Authorities say his stay in Germany violated the provisions of a suspended sentence in a 2014 criminal conviction, while Navalny says the conviction was on trumped-up charges.
The 44-year-old activist is known nationwide for his reports of the corruption that flourished under President Vladimir Putin’s administration.
His broad support puts the Kremlin in strategic bond – it risks more protests and criticism from the West if it remains in custody but is apparently unwilling to withdraw by releasing it.
Navalny faces a trial in early February to determine whether his sentence in criminal proceedings for fraud and money laundering – which Navalny said was politically motivated – will be changed to 3 1/2 years behind bars.
Moscow police arrested three senior Navalny officials on Thursday, two of whom were later detained for nine and ten days.
Navalny fell into a coma on August 20 on a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow. Two days later he was taken from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital. Laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden, as well as tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, revealed that he was exposed to the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.
The Russian authorities insisted that the doctors treating Navalny in Siberia before he was flown to Germany found no trace of the poison and asked German officials to provide evidence of his poisoning. Russia refused to launch a full criminal investigation because there was no evidence that Navalny was poisoned.
Last month, Navalny released the recording of a phone call he made to a man he identified as a suspected member of a group of Federal Security Service (FSB) officials who allegedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover him up. The FSB rejected the recording as a forgery.
Navalny has been a thorn in the side of the Kremlin for a decade, unusually persistent in an opposition movement that is often demoralized by repression.
He has been repeatedly detained in connection with protests and twice convicted of financial misconduct in cases he described as politically motivated. He suffered significant eye damage when an attacker threw disinfectant on his face. He was taken from prison to hospital in 2019 with an illness that authorities said was an allergic reaction that many suspected was poisoning.
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