Moscow, 23 January 2021 (dpa/MIA) – More than 1,000 people were detained on Saturday as demonstrators took to the streets across Russia to demand the release of jailed dissident Alexei Navalny, civil rights activists said.
Of those, at least 300 people were detained in the capital Moscow and a further 162 in St Petersburg, according to volunteer platform OVD-Info.
dpa reporters at the scene witnessed uniformed officers in Moscow’s central Pushkin Square carrying people to prison transport vehicles or leading them away.
Navlany’s wife Yulia Navalnaya was among those detained. She posted a picture of herself in a dark space on Instagram with the caption: “Sorry for the poor quality. The light in the police van is very poor.”
A previous picture on her feed showed her attending the Moscow protest. Navalny’s team had also posted a picture of his mother at the unauthorized event.
Close Navalny ally Lyubov Sobol, a laywer, was also detained.
Among the thousands of protesters in Moscow were many young people and members of the middle class.
Activists and journalists said the internet had been shut down as videos of security forces attacking demonstrators with batons circulated on social networks.
Earlier, detentions were reported in cities across the country’s far east, where demonstrations began hours earlier due to the time difference.
Navalny’s team said thousands of demonstrators turned out in the cities of Khabarovsk, Irkutsk and Novosibirsk, braving freezing-cold temperatures.
Crowds shouted slogans including: “We have the power” and “Putin is a thief.”
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 Kremlin has dismissed the accusations as a “lie.”
In Khabarovsk, protests also focused on the arrest of the city’s popular former governor, Sergei Furgal. Activists shared footage of police officers beating demonstrators and bundling them into a van.
In the Siberian city of Tomsk, where Navalny was poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent in August, his supporters were expected to stage the largest unauthorized protest in decades.
Navalny has blamed the chemical attack on President Vladimir Putin and the FSB intelligence service – charges which the Kremlin denies.
Navalny’s supporters earlier this week took to social media to call for protests in more than 90 cities throughout Russia.
The rallies were not sanctioned by authorities, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov warning people not to take part. Russia has banned all protests during the pandemic.
Navalny, who returned from receiving treatment in Germany last weekend, was sentenced to 30 days of pre-trial detention at a snap trial on Monday.
The Russian judiciary says he violated his parole from an earlier sentence by travelling to Germany for his recovery.
Navalny and his team have dismissed the allegations as a politically motivated attempt to silence him.
The Putin critic was in a coma when he was flown to Berlin on August 22.
Authorities have since clamped down on Navalny’s associates and supporters, detaining several of his aides, including his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh.
The EU imposed sanctions after the poisoning and a number of countries have called for the dissident’s immediate release.
Russia‘s Foreign Ministry meanwhile warned foreign powers not to interfere in the weekend protests, slamming the US embassy in Moscow for listing details of a number of demonstrations on its website.
The embassy warned US citizens to “avoid these demonstrations and any demonstration-related activities,” but the ministry says its true intention was to promote them.