Tens of Thousands Protest in Russia Calling for Navalny

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Tens of thousands of Alexei Navalny supporters have protested across Russia in one of the largest demonstrations against Vladimir Putin’s rule in the past decade.

More than 1,870 people were arrested by riot police on Saturday at dozens of unsanctioned rallies throughout the country, spanning from Kaliningrad in the west to Vladivostok in the far east, as the turnout of those calling for the opposition leader’s release from jail far surpassed many protesters’ expectations.

Navalny’s allies hope they can force the Kremlin to release him through a show of strength, but it is unclear whether the protests will break the government’s resolve to send him to prison for as long as a decade.

Clashes broke out as police wielding truncheons ran protesters off main squares in Moscow and several other cities, and columns of demonstrators broke through police lines in Moscow and St Petersburg, leading to pitched battles.

The police at times appeared to be losing control. In Moscow, video showed protesters trading blows with riot officers near the main protest square, as younger participants nearby kicked a police officer’s riot helmet around like a football. In St Petersburg, protesters shut down the city’s main street, Nevsky Prospekt, and Navalny’s team eventually issued a call for the demonstrators to go home.

Russia’s investigative committee said it had opened an inquiry into violence against police officers on Saturday evening. A spokesperson for the US embassy condemned the violence against demonstrators, accusing Moscow of suppressing Russians’ rights to peaceful protest.

“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” Andrew Roth (@Andrew__Roth) wrote on Twitter on 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.

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.

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 after 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 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.

Profile: Who is Alexei Navalny?

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 Tverskaya Street in central Moscow 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 an 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”.

Post Author: Intercourier

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