Sunday 26/05/2019 - 08:57 pm

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in court after arrest

Navalny posts selfie from court and asks judge to summon Russian PM as witness after being held at anti-government rally

2017.03.27 03:19

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has appeared in a Moscow court a day after some of the biggest anti-government protests in years swept the country.

Navalny had faced up to 15 days in jail on a charge of organising the protests, which led to more than a thousand people being detained, but instead the court fined him 20,000 roubles (£280). The same court also began trying him on a separate charge of disobeying police.

He has declared his intention to run for president next year, an election in which Vladimir Putin is expected to stand and win a new six-year term.

A defiant Navalny posted a selfie from court on Twitter: “The time will come when we will have them on trial (but honestly),” he wrote. He was upbeat during his hearing, asking the judge to summon the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, as a witness to “explain why so many people protested”.

Thousands of people rallied in dozens of cities across Russia on Sunday, called to protest by Navalny over an investigation into Medvedev’s alleged corruption. Navalny’s team released a video alleging Medvedev had amassed a collection of palaces, yachts and vineyards during his time in office.

Authorities in most cities – from Chita in Siberia to Makhachkala in Dagestan – denied permission for the rallies, and police arrested those who were holding posters or chanting, and also on occasion simply swept random people off the street.

Guardian correspondent Alec Luhn was among those arrested, despite having Russian journalistic accreditation. He was held for hours and charged with participating in an unsanctioned demonstration before being released after the foreign ministry intervened.

A rights group monitoring the arrests said on Monday morning that 1,030 people had been detained in Moscow alone. About 120 remained in custody overnight. The majority of those released were charged with the minor offence of taking part in an unsanctioned demonstration and are likely to be fined.

In Nizhny Novgorod, parents of five children who took part in the protests were charged with “improper parenting”, according to Interfax news agency.

Employees of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation were also arrested and his office was searched by police, who seized computers and sealed the premises.

The protests were mostly attended by younger Russians, who came out despite a near blackout of news about the event on Russian state media, which has ignored the protests and arrests.

On Monday, the EU appealed to Russian authorities to release those still being held. “We call on the Russian authorities to abide fully by the international commitments it has made, including in the Council of Europe … to uphold these rights and to release without delay the peaceful demonstrators that have been detained,” it said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the call, describing the protests as “a provocation” and claiming that some teenagers had been promised cash if they were arrested.

Authorities have struggled to deal with Navalny’s threat. He has been put on several trials, widely believed to be politicised, and his brother has been jailed. At times, authorities have experimented with allowing him to take part in politics, and he stood for mayor of Moscow in 2013, winning 27% of votes. Although he has declared his intention to stand for president next year, it is unlikely he will be allowed on to the ballot.

Sunday’s protests were some of the largest since a wave of anti-Kremlin street demonstrations in 2011-12. They concluded with a massive protest on 6 May 2012, the day before Putin returned to the presidency after four years as prime minister. Dozens of people who participated in clashes at the protest were put on trial and many sentenced to long jail terms.

Authorities will have to decide between a similar crackdown or trying to weather the protest mood in the year leading up to the presidential election next March.

Medvedev, who has not made an official response to the corruption claims, answered a comment on his official Instagram asking how his day was on Sunday by writing: “Not bad! Went skiing.” He accompanied it with a winking emoji face.

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