RUSSIAN opposition leader and Vladimir Putin critic Alexei Navalny was jailed for 15 days yesterday after being detained while making his way to a massive protest in Moscow on Sunday. Journalists and well-wishers packed the courtroom where Navalny was sentenced for resisting police orders.
He posted a selfie on Twitter from the court, saying: “A time will come when we’ll put them on trial too – and that time it will be fair.”
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in what were largely unauthorised demonstrations against government corruption.
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Several hundred people were detained in connection with the rallies across the country.
Navalny and his associates organised the protests, which were the biggest show of defiance in Russia since the anti-government demonstrations during 2011-12.
The 40-year-old, Russia’s most popular opposition leader, has twice been convicted on fraud and embezzlement charges which he has dismissed as politically motivated.
Navalny has said he intends to stand in next year’s presidential election, although those convictions bar him from doing so.
While in court yesterday, Navalny told reporters: “Even the slightest illusion of fair justice is absent here. Yesterday’s events have shown that quite a large number of voters in Russia support the programme of a candidate who stands for fighting corruption.
“These people demand political representation – and I strive to be their political representative.”
The Kremlin has dismissed Navalny and his supporters as a Westernised urban elite disconnected from the issues faced by the poor in Russia’s far-flung regions. However, Sunday’s protests included demonstrations in areas which typically produce a high vote for President Putin, from the far western city of Chita in Siberia to southern Dagestan’s capital of Makhachkala.
Russian police said about 500 people were arrested during the protests, but a human rights group published a list of detainees containing more than 1000 names.
The European Union yesterday called on the Russian authorities to release the demonstrators.
Its foreign policy arm said that the police operations “prevented the exercise of basic freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly – which are fundamental rights enshrined in the Russian constitution”.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed: “The Kremlin respects people’s civic stance and their right to voice their position. We can’t extend the same respect to those who consciously misled people and who consciously did it yesterday and provoked illegal actions.”
Peskov defended the riot gear-clad Russian police, who were seen manhandling protesters, some of whom were minors. He claimed under-age protesters in Moscow had been promised cash if they were arrested.
Asked about the Kremlin’s reaction to the wider issue of the protests, Peskov said: “The Kremlin is quite sober about the scale of yesterday’s protests, and are not inclined to diminish them or push them out of proportion.”
Peskov added that Putin “constantly talks to people” and is well-briefed on the sentiment in the country.
Russian state TV completely ignored the protests in their broadcasts and authorities did not comment on them in any way.
Navalny, a lawyer, has evolved from a lone blogger to someone who leads a group of like-minded activists, the Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Some of his team were also arrested on Sunday, at their office where they were setting up and monitoring a webcast of the Moscow rally.
Thirteen of them spent the night at a police station while authorities raided their office, reportedly removing all equipment. It was not immediately clear what charges they might be facing.