Russia targets Navalny supporters with arrests, searches before further protests
Russian authorities are preparing to step up pressure on supporters of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny ahead of a call for more protests over the weekend, launching a wave of arrests and searches, including the arrest of the brother of Navalny, according to The Associated Press.
One of Navalny’s colleagues, Ivan Zhdanov, also posted on Twitter about the arrest of Nalvany’s brother.
Navalny’s allies called for a second round of nationwide protests this Sunday, hoping for a repeat of protests a week ago that saw tens of thousands of people protest across Russia calling for the release of Navalny in one of the biggest public opposition protests the Kremlin has seen in years. The protests were met with a crackdown by the authorities, who detained nearly 4,000 people across the country.
Navalny, already President Vladimir Putin’s most troubling opponent, has forced a confrontation since returning to Russia just under two weeks ago, after recovering from his near-fatal poisoning with a nerve agent during summer. Authorities detained Navalny upon landing in Moscow and now threaten to keep him imprisoned for years.
Ahead of Sunday’s protests, police launched a wave of arrests and searches targeting pro-Navalny activists, as well as opening new criminal cases as part of a growing crackdown. Most of Navalny’s core team as well as a number of local organizers who were not already in jail following the first round of protests have now been arrested. Police arrested Navalny’s brother Oleg Navalny and well-known activists Lyubov Sobol, Anastasia Vasilyeva and Maria Alyokhina from the protest group Pussy Riot on Thursday.
The detentions accompanied raids which saw police carry out around 20 searches of the homes and offices of activists, including Navalny’s apartment in Moscow while his wife Yulia was inside.
Police said they arrested Navalny’s brother and others on suspicion of violating health restrictions linked to the coronavirus outbreak. Oleg Navalny, Sobol and Alyokhina were reportedly detained for 48 hours. Several prominent members of Navalny’s team are already serving short administrative sentences of around two weeks handed to them ahead of last week’s protests.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday in response to questions about the searches and arrests said “the police are doing their job.”
Navalny himself appeared on video Thursday at a hearing in Moscow court where an appeal by his lawyers against his detention was dismissed.
Navalny is being held on the grounds that he violated the terms of his parole from an old suspended sentence for an embezzlement conviction in 2014 that was widely criticized as being politically motivated.
After arresting Navalny at the airport last week, authorities took Navalny to a makeshift court which ordered him to be held for 30 days pending the parole hearing that will decide whether to convert this sentence of 3 and a half years suspended in real prison sentence. The 2014 trial where the initial sentence was handed down was later ruled unfair by the European Court of Human Rights.
At Thursday’s hearing, the judge dismissed Navalny’s appeal and ordered that he be held until the parole hearing scheduled for February 2.
Speaking from the prison where he is being held, Navalny told the judge that the original order to detain him was clearly illegal and that would not deter him or others from challenging the Kremlin.
“A lot of people, tens of millions of people agree with me. Yes, right now the force is on your side,” Navalny said. “But it won’t go on forever.”
Prosecutors on Thursday also opened another criminal case against key Navalny lieutenant Leonid Volkov, accusing him of allegedly instigating teenagers to participate in an unauthorized public protest. The Russian commission of inquiry said the charges were based on a video Volkov made calling on people to demonstrate, but it makes no reference to the teenagers.
The arrest of Navalny’s brother, Oleg Navalny, was notable as he had already spent years in prison as a hostage in retaliation for Navalny’s activism, according to rights groups. Oleg Navalny was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison in the same 2014 embezzlement case where Navalny was given his suspended sentence. Oleg was released in 2018.
Navalny’s arrest and crackdown on protesters sparked international criticism, with European countries and the Biden administration demanding Navalny’s release and respect for people’s right to protest.
The unusual scale of the protests last weekend and the prospect of them continuing poses an uncomfortable new problem for the Kremlin, analysts said. Navalny’s survival from nerve poisoning and his decision to return also dramatically elevated his status internationally.
“After his poisoning in Siberia and his treatment in Germany, Navalny became the second voice of Russia abroad after Putin – and a politician on a global scale – and the Western statements correspond to this new reality” , Alexander Baunov, Principal Investigator at the Carnegie Moscow Center written in an article this week.
After Navalny’s arrest, his team released a new investigative film that describes what they say is a secret palace owned by Putin on the Black Sea in Russia. The nearly two-hour film has now been viewed over 100 million times on YouTube.
This success and the protests over the past weekend point to a widening of dissent beyond the mainstream opposition which is beginning to intrude into Russian society at large, some analysts have said, posing further difficulty for the Kremlin. , who is forced to respond.
“This is more or less new for the Kremlin,” Andrey Kolesnikov, senior researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told ABC News this week. “The Kremlin must find a solution to this problem but for the moment it has chosen the line of suppressing civil society,” he said, adding that he expected this to continue.