Russian security forces have arrested several demonstrators who gathered outside the prison where Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is being held. The opposition’s team posted videos on Telegram Saturday evening showing representatives of the OMON special police in Moscow beating protesters and kicking people lying on the ground. People standing around shouted “shame”.
After a large protest that afternoon in the city center with thousands of participants, hundreds of people walked more than an hour to the notorious number one remand prison in the north-east of the capital.
In total, more than 2,600 people were arrested during the protests in Russia by early Saturday evening, according to civil rights activists. This was reported by the Owd-Info portal, which documented the number of arrested nationwide. Most of the arrests were made in Moscow, initially around 800. In St. Petersburg, there were more than 300.
Russian human rights activists listed a total of around 100 cities in which demonstrators were held in police custody – most of them remained individual arrests. Observers spoke of tens of thousands of participants in the protests across the country. The opposition announced new protests for the coming weekend.
Further arrests were expected in the evening. In Moscow alone, hundreds of people were still walking around the city center after dark. The police called on her to go home. Roads were closed.
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Navalny’s wife was also briefly in police custody in Moscow. Julia Navalnaja posted a photo from a prisoner transporter on Instagram on Saturday afternoon. “Sorry for the poor quality,” read the ironic caption. The light in the police car is very bad. She was released a few hours later, according to media reports.
“Putin wor” – “Putin is a thief!” – shouted people in Moscow and many other cities. It was the phrase of the day that connected the many demonstrators across the country, even over the huge distances. It was not just about robbing democratic rights, many shouted: “Russia will be free!”
Nawalny’s team also posted a photo of Nawalny’s mother, who had also come to the demo.
Navalny’s supporters are demanding the release of the opposition activist, who was sentenced to 30 days in prison on Monday in a controversial urgent procedure. Navalny is said to have violated reporting requirements in an earlier criminal case while he was recovering from a poison attack in Germany. The 44-year-old and his team see the judiciary’s actions as politically motivated.
More than 40 security guards were also injured in the protests. As the state agency Tass reported on Saturday, these are mainly minor injuries. Nobody was taken to the hospital. Protesters threw snowballs at the emergency services. The state agency Ria Novosti reported that three police officers had been doused with white paint.
The vast majority of people protested peacefully against the actions of the Russian authorities against Navalny, who is in a Moscow prison. There were many young people and middle-class people among the thousands of protesters in Moscow. Activists and journalists complained that the internet was being throttled. Videos of security forces who attacked protesters with batons circulated on social networks.
In the cities of Vladivostok and Irkutsk, hundreds of demonstrators gathered despite freezing temperatures. They chanted “We are the power” and “Putin is a liar”.
A ZDF journalist shared recordings on Twitter from Moscow in which a police officer is holding a child.
Prominent Russian cultural workers, including musicians, authors and actors, had previously shown solidarity with the imprisoned Kremlin opponent in a video. The writer Dmitri Gluchowski (Dmitry Glukhovsky), who is also known in Germany, said that there are moments in life when silence is out of place.
“Freedom for Alexej Navalny!”
The musicians from Noize MC, Anacondaz and the internationally known director Witali Manski also called in the clip “Freedom for Alexej Navalny!” To not watch indifferently when people are politically persecuted and imprisoned for no reason.
“You have to fight for freedom!” Said Manski. The more frequent and the bigger the protests, the sooner Navalny will be free again, said artist Nadeschda Tolokonnikova from the punk band Pussy Riot. She herself was in the penal camp after taking part in a protest against Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin in a church.
Navalny was arrested in Moscow last Sunday immediately after his return from Germany. In Berlin, the 44-year-old was treated after a poison attack in August, for which the opposition blames the Kremlin.
Navalny accuses the secret service of the attack
According to laboratory results in Germany, France and Sweden, which the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed, Navalny was poisoned with a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group. Navalny accuses the Russian secret service FSB of being behind his poisoning and accuses Putin of having commissioned the assassination attempt. The Russian government denies any involvement in the attack on Navalny.
After his arrest, Navalny called for nationwide protests for his release. The police announced a crackdown on the protest participants. The Russian Investigative Committee said on Friday that it was investigating the call for unauthorized protests.
Navalny’s close ally Leonid Volkov told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that street protests were “the only means in Russia to get someone out of prison”. It has also happened that Russian opposition activists have been poisoned twice in a row. Therefore “the only protection” for Navalny is “maximum visibility and support in the population”.
At the beginning of the week, Nawalny’s team published an unveiling video entitled “A Palace for Putin”, which is supposed to prove that the president had a huge estate built on the Black Sea with bribes. The almost two-hour film had more than 65 million views on Youtube after a few days. The Kremlin describes the allegations as “nonsense” and “lies”.
Both the poison attack and the arrest of Navalny after his return to Moscow had sparked international outrage. The EU and the US demanded the immediate release of the Kremlin critic. After Navalny was arrested, the voices became louder after the German-Russian pipeline project Nord Stream 2 was discontinued. The EU Parliament on Thursday called for a construction stop on the pipeline and sanctions against those involved in the crackdown on Navalny and other Russian opposition members. (AFP, dpa)