Russian Court Upholds Navalny’s Detention Ahead Of Fresh Rallies

In this file photo taken on January 16, 2018 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny smiles during an interview with AFP at the office of his Anti-corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow. Mladen ANTONOV / AFP
In this file photo taken on January 16, 2018 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny smiles during an interview with AFP at the office of his Anti-corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow. Mladen ANTONOV / AFP

 

Opposition figure Alexei Navalny on Thursday denounced Kremlin pressure and a biased judiciary during a hearing in which he was ordered to remain behind bars ahead of anti-government protests this weekend.

Several of his allies were detained following police raids on their apartments and offices hours before the verdict and in the run-up to Sunday’s rally outside the FSB security service’s headquarters.

“This is blatant lawlessness to intimidate me and other people,” Navalny told the court on Thursday via video link from a high-security detention centre in Moscow.

Police detained the 44-year-old anti-graft campaigner at a Moscow airport after he returned to Russia on January 17 from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning with a nerve toxin.

A makeshift court at a police station last week ordered Navalny placed in custody until February 15.

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His lawyer Olga Mikhailova told reporters after Thursday’s hearing that she intends to appeal the decision, but that “hopes are not high” for success.

Police on Wednesday carried out searches at Navalny’s flat in Moscow and the homes of his allies over alleged violations of coronavirus restrictions during anti-Kremlin protests last week.

– Detentions, criminal probes –
Ivan Zhdanov, the head of Navalny’s FBK Anti-Corruption Foundation, said prominent aide Lyubov Sobol and Navalny’s brother Oleg were detained for 48 hours as suspects in a probe launched by the interior ministry.

Searches were also carried out at the flat of Navalny’s wife Yulia, and in the office of FBK, which is known for its investigations into the wealth of Russia’s elites.

 

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen at the passport control point at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on January 17, 2021. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

 

Police also arrived at the home of Navalny’s doctor Anastasia Vasilyeva, who was detained for 48 hours too.

In a video posted on Twitter by Vasilyeva’s press secretary, the doctor was playing Beethoven on a piano as people in uniform arrived at the door.

Tens of thousands of people across Russia rallied last weekend in support of Navalny, who is facing charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence and could be jailed for two and a half years.

Officials have threatened to fine social media including Instagram, Twitter and TikTok for failing to delete posts urging young people to join the rallies.

Protests in Russia are banned if they are not approved by the authorities, as are calls for people under 18 to join in.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday that the state did not want social networks to become “platforms to announce illegal protests”.

The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said it had launched a probe against Leonid Volkov, the head of Navalny’s regional network, for persuading young people to protest.

– ‘Pay the price’ –
The opposition plans to hold more rallies on Sunday, which in Moscow will take place outside the headquarters of the FSB, the security agency that Navalny says targeted him in the poisoning attack on President Vladimir Putin’s orders.

Nearly 4,000 people were detained last Saturday at the unsanctioned rallies, which have sparked a series of criminal investigations.

Rights group Amnesty International on Thursday said Russian authorities “appear shamelessly bent on violating human rights by silencing their critics” and called their actions a “cowardly attempt” to prevent further protests in Navalny’s support.

The Moscow prosecutor’s office said it had sent out warnings ahead of Sunday’s rally to six individuals and five internet platforms, without naming them.

Despite pressure from authorities and threats of arrest, the opposition appears unwilling to back down.

Volkov said on Telegram that Sunday’s rallies will take place “despite searches and late-night interrogations, despite the 4,000 arrests last week, despite the lies and intimidation of Kremlin propaganda”.

Political analyst Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Moscow Center told AFP that Navalny’s continued protest of the government was evidence that he was “ready to pay the price to become a real counterweight to Putin”.

“What Navalny wants to do now is to prepare for a situation when he, as the main opposition leader, can become a real contender for power.”

AFP

Navalny Flies Back To Russia Despite Risk Of Arrest

In this file photo taken on January 16, 2018 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny smiles during an interview with AFP at the office of his Anti-corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow. Mladen ANTONOV / AFP
In this file photo taken on January 16, 2018 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny smiles during an interview with AFP at the office of his Anti-corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow. Mladen ANTONOV / AFP

 

Chief Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was flying back to Russia on Sunday for the first time since a near-fatal poisoning attack last summer, facing the threat of imminent arrest after his plane lands in Moscow.

A flight carrying Navalny from Germany, where the 44-year-old spent months recovering from the August poisoning, took off from Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport just after 3:15 pm (1415 GMT), according to AFP journalists on the plane.

Wearing a blue face mask, green jacket and scarf, Navalny boarded with his wife Yulia and took his seat in row 13.

Speaking to reporters on the plane, he said he did not fear being arrested on arrival in Moscow.

“They will arrest me? They will arrest me? That’s impossible, I’m an innocent person,” Navalny said.

“I feel I am a citizen of Russia who has the full right to return to his home.”

Supporters were already gathering to meet Navalny outside Vnukovo airport in Moscow, where his plane was due to land around 7:30 pm (1630 GMT).

There was a heavy police presence at Vnukovo, AFP journalists at the airport said, after authorities warned that mass events would not be allowed because of Covid restrictions.

Barricades were put up inside to block the view of the arrivals area.

“How cowardly, pathetic and funny they are,” Navalny wrote on Instagram before leaving Berlin.

– Facing criminal probe –
Several Navalny supporters had arrived at the airport before his flight took off, including key aide Lyubov Sobol.

Navalny fell violently ill on a flight over Siberia in August and was flown out to Berlin in an induced coma.

Western experts concluded he was poisoned with Soviet-designed nerve toxin Novichok and Navalny alleges the attack was carried out on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin denies any involvement and Russian investigators said there were no grounds to launch a probe into the attack.

In this file photo taken on May 05, 2018 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny addresses supporters during an unauthorized anti-Putin rally in Moscow, two days ahead of Vladimir Putin's inauguration for a fourth Kremlin term. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP
In this file photo taken on May 05, 2018 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny addresses supporters during an unauthorized anti-Putin rally in Moscow, two days ahead of Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a fourth Kremlin term. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

Berlin said Saturday it had responded to requests for legal assistance from Moscow and handed over transcripts of an interview conducted by German police with Navalny.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Sunday confirmed that Russia received the documents sent by Germany but they “essentially didn’t contain anything” on the questions that Moscow had.

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Russia’s prison service FSIN says Navalny may face jail time on arrival in Moscow for violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence he was handed on fraud charges.

The FSIN said it would be “obliged” to detain Navalny once he returned to Russia.

The anti-graft campaigner may also face criminal charges under a probe launched late last year by Russian investigators who say he misappropriated over $4 million worth of donations.

Navalny and his allies said authorities were trying to intimidate him into not returning to Russia and encouraged supporters to gather at the airport.

In response to a Facebook event, more than 2,000 people said they were planning to go, despite temperatures in Moscow hovering around -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Several activists in Russia’s second city Saint Petersburg, who were travelling to Moscow to greet Navalny, said police stopped them at the city’s train station and airport.

Groups opposed to Navalny were also planning to show up, with a nationalist movement promising to welcome him with “zelyonka”, a bright green antiseptic solution that is commonly found in Russia. Navalny had previously been attacked with the green dye that can take days to wash off.

– Anti-corruption investigations –
The airport told journalists that it will not allow media to work inside, citing coronavirus concerns.

Navalny has been the symbol of Russia’s protest movement for a decade, after rising to prominence as an anti-corruption blogger and leading anti-government street rallies.

 

Alexei Navalny
This handout picture posted on September 23, 2020 on the Instagram account of @navalny shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny sitting on a bench in Berlin. Handout / Instagram account @navalny / AFP

 

Navalny publishes YouTube investigations into the wealth of Russia’s political elites, some of which garner millions of views, making the activist’s team a target of lawsuits, police raids and jail stints.

Navalny is ignored or given negative coverage by state-controlled TV, the primary source of news for many Russians, which makes it unclear how much support he enjoys among ordinary citizens.

According to a poll published by the independent Levada Centre last year, only 20 percent of respondents said they approved of Navalny’s actions, while 50 percent disapproved.

Navalny has never held elected office. He came second in a 2013 vote for mayor of Moscow but was barred from standing against Putin in the 2018 presidential elections.

His allies are also frequently prevented from running for election.

In 2019, several Navalny allies were barred from running for the Moscow city council, sparking mass rallies in the capital that lasted several weeks.

AFP