Tens of thousands take part in protests in support of the Russian opposition leader Navalny

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Tens of thousands chanted anti-President Vladimir Putin slogans and took to the streets across Russia on Sunday to demand the release of locked up Opposition leader Alexey Navalnyto sustain nationwide protests that rocked the Kremlin. More than 4,700 people were arrested by police and some were beaten, according to a surveillance group.

Russian authorities went to great lengths to stem the tide of demonstrations after tens of thousands gathered across the country last weekend. This was the largest and most widespread demonstration of discontent Russia had seen in years. Despite threats of imprisonment, warnings to social media groups and tight police chains, the protests on Sunday again locked cities in Russia’s eleven time zones.

Navalny’s team quickly called for another protest in Moscow on Tuesday as he faces a trial that could send him to prison for years.

Navalny, 44, an anti-corruption investigator who is Putin’s best-known critic, was arrested on January 17th After returning from Germany, he recovered for five months from nerve agent poisoning, which he accuses the Kremlin. The Russian authorities have denied the allegations. He was arrested for allegedly violating his probation requirements for failing to report to law enforcement meetings while he was recovering in Germany

Rally in Moscow in support of Alexei Navalny
Police officers arrest a protester during a rally in support of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow on January 31, 2021.

MAXIM SHEMETOV / REUTERS


The United States called on Russia to release Navalny and criticized the crackdown on protests.

“The US condemns the continued use of tough tactics against peaceful demonstrators and journalists by the Russian authorities for a second week in a row,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Twitter.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected Blinken’s call for “gross interference in Russia’s internal affairs” and accused Washington of supporting the protests in an attempt to destabilize the situation in the country.

According to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests, police arrested more than 4,700 people across the country during protests in cities on Sunday. more than 4,000 detentions at the demonstrations across Russia on January 23.

In Moscow, authorities implemented unprecedented security measures in the city center, closed metro stations near the Kremlin, reduced bus traffic and ordered restaurants and shops to remain closed.

Navalny’s team initially called for the protest to take place on Sunday in Moscow’s Lubyanka Square, which is the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, which Navalny claims was responsible for his poisoning. The protest was directed against police chains around the square and then moved to other central squares and streets.

Rally in Moscow in support of Alexei Navalny
Protesters raise their fists during a rally in support of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on January 31, 2021 in Moscow.

MAXIM SHEMETOV / REUTERS


The police happened to pick up people and put them in police buses, but thousands of protesters marched for hours through the city center chanting, “Putin, step back!” and “Putin, thief!” – a reference to an opulent Black Sea estate that was reportedly built for the Russian leader and featured in a widespread video by Navalny’s team.

“I’m not afraid because we are the majority,” said Leonid Martynov, who took part in the protest. “We mustn’t be afraid of clubs because the truth is on our side.”

At some point, protesters approached the Matrosskaya Tishina prison, where Navalny is being held. They were hit by riot police phalanxes who pushed back the march and chased protesters through courtyards, recording scores and beating some with clubs. Despite this, demonstrators continued to march in zigzags around the police cordons through the Russian capital.

Nearly 1,500 people were arrested in Moscow, including Navalny’s wife Julia. “If we keep silent, they will follow each of us tomorrow,” she said on Instagram before protesting.

Rally in Moscow in support of Alexei Navalny
A woman holds an icon during a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia, Jan. 31, 2021.

YURI BELYAT / REUTERS


Amnesty International said the authorities in Moscow have arrested so many people that the city’s detention centers have run out of space. “The Kremlin is waging a war on the human rights of the people of Russia and suppressing protesters’ demands for freedom and change,” said Natalia Zviagina, the group’s Moscow office director, in a statement.

Several thousand people marched through Russia’s second largest city St. Petersburg and sang “Down with the Tsar!” and occasional brawls broke out as protesters pushed back police trying to make arrests. More than 1,000 were arrested.

Some of the largest rallies took place in Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk in eastern Siberia and in Yekaterinburg in the Urals.

“I don’t want my grandchildren to live in such a country,” said 55-year-old Vyacheslav Vorobyov, who turned out to be at a rally in Yekaterinburg. “I want you to live in a free country.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, who is currently Chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, condemned “the excessive use of force by the authorities and the masses of peaceful demonstrators and journalists” and urged Russia to “all wrongly detained, including Navalny, to release. “”

Courts arrested Navalny staff and activists across the country over the past week as part of a variety of efforts by the authorities to block the protests. His brother Oleg, top aide Lyubov Sobol, and three others were placed under two-month house arrest on Friday for alleged violating coronavirus restrictions during last weekend’s protests.

Prosecutors also called for social media platforms to block calls to join the protests.

The Interior Ministry issued a stern warning to the public, saying protesters could be charged with participating in mass riots that could result in imprisonment for up to eight years.

The protests were fueled by a two-hour YouTube video released by Navalny’s team after he was arrested for the Black Sea residence allegedly built for Putin. The video has been viewed over 100 million times and has inspired a stream of sarcastic jokes on the internet amid an economic downturn.

Russia has experienced extensive corruption during Putin’s tenure, while poverty remains widespread.

Protesters in Moscow sang “Aqua disco!” – A reference to one of the residence’s fancy amenities, which also includes a casino and a shisha lounge where pole dancing can be watched.

Putin says neither he nor any of his close relatives own the property. On Saturday, construction magnate Arkady Rotenberg, a longtime confidante of Putin and occasional judo sparring partner, claimed he owned the property himself.

Navalny fell into a coma on a flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20 and the pilot rerouted the plane so he could be treated in the city of Omsk. Two days later he was taken 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 nerve agent Novichok.

The Russian authorities have refused to open a full criminal investigation as there is no evidence that he was poisoned.

Navalny was arrested immediately upon his return to Russia earlier this month and has been detained for 30 days at the request of the Russian Prison Service. He claimed he had breached his suspended sentence from a 2014 money laundering conviction that he denied as political revenge.

On Thursday, a Moscow court denied the release of Navalny’s appeal, and another hearing on Tuesday could turn his 3 1/2 year suspended sentence into a sentence to serve in prison. Navalny’s team called for another protest outside the courthouse.

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