Russia detains more than 3,500 Navalny supporters at mass demos
By Hannah Wagner
MOSCOW – More than 3,500 people were detained when demonstrators took to the streets across Russia to demand the release of jailed dissident Alexei Navalny, civil rights activists said on Sunday (24).
Of those, at least 1,360 were detained at the largest of Saturday’s (23) protests in the capital Moscow, activist portal OVD-Info said. Another 523 were detained in St Petersburg.
Russia’s children’s rights commissioner said around 300 minors were among those taken into custody, while the country’s journalism association said around 40 reporters were among those detained.
Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in 100 cities across the length and breadth of Russia on Saturday, from the far eastern city of Khabarovsk to Kaliningrad on the Baltic coast, for some of the largest demonstrations seen under President Vladimir Putin.
Navalny’s team spoke of a “grandiose all-Russian action” and has vowed to continue the protests.
According to the leading opposition figure’s team, 40,000 people joined the protest in Moscow, while police said attendance of the unauthorized rally was far lower.
The Kremlin dismissed estimates that “many people” joined the protests. “No, few people went. Many people vote for Putin,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian state television.
The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania criticized Russia’s harsh crackdown on the protesters and called for the rest of the EU to take a tough line on Moscow.
“We strongly condemn the detention of peaceful protesters in Russia. They must be released immediately,” the foreign ministers of the three EU and NATO countries bordering Russia wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, a video showing a police officer kicking a woman in St. Petersburg prompted outrage on social networks.
According to media reports, the 54-year-old suffered a traumatic head injury. She is unconscious in hospital. Investigators said they would look into the case.
A police officer who posted a video in support of Navalny ahead of the protests has also been sacked from his post, according to the Kursk department of the Interior Ministry, which said the officer had besmirched the honour of the force.
Navalny returned from receiving treatment in Germany last weekend following an assassination attempt with the nerve agent Novichok. The 44-year-old was sentenced to 30 days of pre-trial detention at a snap trial last Monday (18).
Navalny and his team have dismissed allegations of parole violations as a politically motivated attempt to silence him.
Navalny has blamed the chemical attack on Putin and the FSB intelligence service – charges which the Kremlin denies.
Earlier this week, Navalny’s team released a video titled “A Palace for Putin,” claiming to show that the long-standing leader has built a “tsarist empire” on the Black Sea funded by bribes. The video had been seen 77 million times by Sunday morning.
The Kremlin has dismissed the accusations as a “lie.”
In many cities, demonstrators held up toilet brushes – an allusion to the claim there is an Italian toilet brush worth 700 euros (850 dollars) in the bathroom of Putin’s giant palace.