More than 3,000 Russians were arrested after taking to the streets to support jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in one of the biggest showdowns against Putin in years
A man shouts during a protest against opposition leader Alexei Navalny prison in Moscow on January 23. Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images
Thousands of Russians were arrested after participating in protests in support of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Saturday.
After being poisoned, Navalny recovered in Germany for several months.
He returned to Russia on January 17 and was immediately arrested and charged with violating a 2014 suspended sentence.
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Tens of thousands of Russians from more than 100 cities took part in a massive protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Saturday.
The protests took place across the country, from Moscow to St. Petersburg and in some of the most remote parts of Siberia, where residents braved - temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit to show support for the anti-corruption activist.
In August 2020, Navalny fell seriously ill on a flight to Moscow and was hospitalized in Berlin. Navalny was later able to convince an agent of the Russian Federal Security Service to reveal that the cause of his illness was a novichok nerve agent who was supposed to poison the anti-corruption leader.
Navalny spent the last few months in Germany to recover but returned to Russia on January 17. Upon arrival in Moscow, he was immediately taken into custody for violating a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement.
He is currently in Matrosskaya Tishina Prison, where a judge has ruled that he should remain in custody for the next 30 days.
The Russian authorities used violence and repression to arrest thousands of citizens
After the news of his arrest, the Russians used social media platforms, including TikTok, to organize protests. More than 40,000 people are believed to have participated in the nationwide protests on Saturday.
Russian police in Moscow clash with protesters demonstrating against the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Beata Zawrzel / NurPhoto via Getty Images
At a protest in front of Matrosskaya Tishina, police used batons to beat protesters, according to the Russian outlet Mediazona. A 54-year-old woman was kicked by a police officer and ended up in the hospital. A cyclist was pulled from his bike and beaten by law enforcement in St. Petersburg, and more than two dozen people in Moscow were injured in a skirmish with police.
More than 3,400 Russians were taken into custody during the protests, including Navalny's wife Julia. On Saturday, she posted a photo on Instagram with the title: "Sorry for the poor quality. Very poor light in the touring car."
She was later released.
Read more: The wife of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is arrested as mass protests defy Putin and demand his release from prison
Journalists were among the target groups for the authorities. Dozens of reporters from several independent Russian media outlets, including TV Rain, The Insider and Vital Stories, were arrested by police and heavily fined. In one case, police went to a location where Dozhd TV workers were working and turned off the power to the building, Mediazona reported.
Pussy Riot founders, Maria Alyokhina and Lyusya Shtein, were also among those detained. According to Russian state news agency Ria Novosti, Alyochina was fined 30,000 rubles (or around $ 400) for allegedly encouraging people to "attend an unauthorized rally."
On Saturday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price released a statement condemning the detentions and violence.
"The United States strongly condemns the use of tough tactics against protesters and journalists this weekend in cities across Russia," he wrote, noting that crackdown on protesters was based on "years of tightened restrictions and repressive actions against civil society, independent media and media "followed the political opposition. "
Riot police line up their shields during protests in support of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Donat Sorokin \ TASS via Getty Images
Price continued to call for the "unconditional release" of Navalny and the demonstrators arrested on Saturday.
On Thursday, the Biden government said it would "work to hold Russia accountable for its ruthless and controversial actions, including" using chemical weapons against opposition leader Alexei Navalny ".
Navalny's allies hope the protests will lead to his release again
Leonid Volkov, a close ally of the opposition, hopes the pressure of the protests will force the Kremlin to release Navalny as it has in the past.
"We know the Kremlin fears mass demonstrations," Volkov told Reuters. "We know that in recent years the Kremlin has never failed to bend one way or the other when the demonstrations were strong and strong enough."
Navalny established himself as chairman of the Russia of the Future Party and founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, and has served Putin as a foil since the former Kremlin official was elected president in 2012.
In a 2013 Wall Street Journal article, Navalny was described as "the man Putin fears most," which, ironically, helped fuel his popularity in Russia.
Alexei Navalny recovered in Germany for several months after being poisoned with a nerve agent. REUTERS / Shamil Zhumatov
"I'm on the blackest part of the black list," Navalny told the Journal in 2013, noting that his public appearances in official Russian media are often banned or strictly edited. "Sometimes it seems to me that there is a little madman in the Kremlin who works for me. Relatively few people watch such shows. But because they banned it, millions of Russians now ask themselves, 'Who is he?' ""
In 2013, Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly embezzling and selling more than $ 500,000 of wood from the Kirovles logging company in 2009. But thousands took to the streets of Moscow to protest the conviction, and a day later Navalny was released.
There are also fears that the Kremlin could double its sentences. Putin is said to have been particularly annoyed by a 90-minute video recently uploaded to YouTube claiming that the Russian president built a sumptuous $ 1.4 billion complex on the Russian Black Sea that was funded with stolen money. The video has been viewed more than 50 million times.
Read more: Drone footage is said to show Vladimir Putin's secret $ 1.4 billion palace on the Russian Black Sea
"Putin has a palace built with stolen money and Putin is a thief himself," a protester in Moscow told the New York Times.
Putin's press spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed Navalny's claims as "pure nonsense and patchwork", according to the Russian outlet Meduza.
While the protests raged on Saturday, Putin remained silent, except for expressing condolences to longtime television journalist Larry King, according to Russian state media broadcaster Ria Novosti.
Peskov told reporters, "The president has always valued his highest professionalism and undisputed journalistic authority" from King.
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