Thousands of Alexei Navalny supporters join protests across Russia

Figcaption Thousands Of Aleei Navalny Supporters Join Protests Across Russia
Posted at: Author: Rain TV UK

Thousands of supporters of Alexei Navalny have begun to protest in cities across Russia to call for the opposition leader’s release from jail.

Demonstrators gathered in cities and towns in Siberia and the far east with rallies in Moscow and St Petersburg expected to begin at 2pm local time (1100 GMT).

Police have made more than 167 arrests, according to the website OVD-Info, as the Kremlin attempts to break up the unsanctioned rallies by force. The protests are likely to be the country’s largest since 2017.

Pro-Navalny protests have kicked off in the Far East and now in Siberia, where 100s and 1000s coming out. Their size could influence whether he's released from jail. Pics and vid coming out from Vladivostok, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, even Yakutsk, where it is -50C. So far 56 arrested. pic.twitter.com/PZSZbgteVU

— Andrew Roth (@Andrew__Roth) January 23, 2021

Several thousand protesters took to the streets in the far-eastern port city of Vladivostok, as well as hundreds more in nearby Khabarovsk and Blagoveshchensk. That region has been a hotbed of protest since last year’s arrest of the Khabarovsk governor, Sergei Furgal.

Video showed riot police with helmets and clubs rushing into a crowd in Vladivostok as authorities cleared the streets. Vladivostok is seven hours ahead of Moscow and the treatment of protesters there may indicate how they will be dealt with in the larger cities of European Russia.

Many more came out in cities across Siberia, with thousands in the city of Novosibirsk and hundreds in Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, and even dozens in Yakutsk, where temperatures dipped as low as -50C (-58F). In Irkutsk, protesters shouted: “We will not go!” Some in Omsk carried pairs of underpants in a reference to the suspected FSB poisoning of Navalny last August.

Protesters scuffle with police during a rally in Vladivostok. Photograph: Sergei Shevchenko/Reuters

The largest opposition rallies are expected in Moscow and St Petersburg, where police have already cordoned off main squares to divert the crowds. Russian media have also reported sightings of heavy military vehicles on the outskirts of Moscow, although it was unclear if they were related to the protests.

Navalny’s allies have said the rallies are their best chance of convincing the Kremlin to free him.

Navalny was arrested on Sunday after returning from treatment abroad following the poisoning attempt, which was traced to Russia’s FSB security service. A parole board could reverse an earlier sentence and send him to a penal colony as early as the end of January.

The Moscow mayor’s office has told the public not to attend the rallies and the powerful investigative committee has opened a criminal investigation into a flood of calls on social networks, including TikTok, Facebook and others, for young people to join in.

Authorities claimed that social networks had complied with their demands to delete the content, saying TikTok had deleted 38% of posts promoting the rallies and that YouTube and VKontakte had each deleted 50% of similar posts appealing to underage protesters.

In remarks from a Moscow jail released on Friday night, Navalny told supporters he was in good spirits and, in case anything mysterious happened to him, that he was emotionally stable and not planning to harm himself. “I definitely know that outside of my prison there are many good people, and help is on the way,” he said.

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Who is Alexei Navalny?

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Born in 1976 just outside Moscow, Alexei Navalny is a lawyer-turned-campaigner whose Anti-Corruption Foundation investigates the wealth of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. 

He started out as a Russian nationalist, but emerged as the main leader of Russia's democratic opposition during the wave of protests that led up to the 2012 presidential election, and has since been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side. 

Navalny is barred from appearing on state television, but has used social media to his advantage. A 2017 documentary accusing the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, of corruption received more than 30m views on YouTube within two months. 

He has been repeatedly arrested and jailed. The European court of human rights ruled that Russia violated Navalny's rights by holding him under house arrest in 2014. Election officials barred him from running for president in 2018 due to an embezzlement conviction that he claims was politically motivated. Navalny told the commission its decision would be a vote 'not against me, but against 16,000 people who have nominated me; against 200,000 volunteers who have been canvassing for me'. 

There has also been a physical price to pay. In April 2017, he was attacked with green dye that nearly blinded him in one eye, and in July 2019 he was taken from jail to hospital with symptoms that one of his doctors said could indicate poisoning. In 2020, he was again hospitalised after a suspected poisoning, and taken to Germany for treatment. The German government later said toxicology results showed Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.

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Police have arrested Navalny’s press secretary, two lawyers and a top investigator who helped to prepare an investigation into a £1bn palace on the Black Sea they claim was bankrolled by Putin’s friends and state companies. As of Friday, the video of the investigation had been watched 50m times on YouTube.

Navalny supporters were also arrested in Krasnodar, Kaliningrad, Vladivostok and cities across Russia, as protest coordinators planned rallies in at least 65 cities and towns.

Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s press secretary, said police threatened to break down her door while detaining her before the protests. She continued to tweet from custody, saying that attending the demonstrations was “everyone’s duty, if we want prosperity, freedom and the wellbeing of our country. And so that Alexei and all those illegally behind bars are set free.

“January 23rd should become legendary,” she wrote from a jail cell before signing off for the night.

Navalny could be sent to a prison colony if a parole board decides to revise a three-and-a-half-year sentence handed down in 2014. Russian investigators are also preparing criminal cases that could carry more than a decade of jail time if Navalny is charged.

Opposition rallies have attracted more young Russians, including many teenagers, since Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund began releasing online investigations into senior politicians and others close to Putin. In 2017, protests largely attended by young Russians shut down central Moscow’s Tverskaya Street after Navalny released an investigation into the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev.

Influencers on TikTok and other social networks have come out in support of the rally, bringing warnings from Russia’s general prosecutor that the social networks should take down the content or face fines or other sanctions.

In one viral video, an English-language teacher, @neurolera, gives tips for how people can pretend they are American tourists if caught by police. “You are violating my human rights!” she says with a distinctly American intonation. And if all else failed, she added, then tell the police: “I’m gonna call my lawyer.”

On Friday, the Moscow city police department said it would prosecute anyone calling on people to join the protests “in the media, on the internet, and on social networks”. In particular, the city prosecutor singled out calls for “minors to participate in mass riots”.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin press secretary, said on Friday that the investigation into Putin and the Black Sea mansion was a “lie” and a “cut-and-paste job”.

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