Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was released on Friday after serving 30 days in jail for urging protests against the exclusion of opposition candidates from upcoming elections in Moscow, his spokeswoman said.
Navalny emerged from prison smiling, according to photographs released on Twitter by the spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh.
A Moscow court on Monday sentenced Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to 10 days in prison for taking part in a protest in support of a journalist last month.
“Navalny got 10 days,” his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh wrote on Twitter. Prosecutors accuse Navalny of breaking Russia’s strict protest laws during the June 12 rally.
Navalny was one of more than 400 people detained when police sought to break up the peaceful protest that called for an end of the alleged impunity of law enforcement agencies. He was released several hours later.
The protest was held on a public holiday after police suddenly dropped trumped-up charges against respected journalist Ivan Golunov.
It was initially called to press for the freedom of Golunov who was released on the eve of the march following several days of public outrage.
Many saw Golunov’s release as a Kremlin attempt to crush the new protest wave.
Police were seen beating protesters and detaining some passers-by at the rally, and Amnesty International accused authorities of “contempt for solidarity and rights.”
Over the last decade, Navalny has emerged as one of the key opponents of President Vladimir Putin, organising some of the biggest anti-Kremlin protests in recent years.
Last year, Navalny served two stints of 30 and 20 days in jail for violating protest laws.
As soon as he was released from jail after serving the 30-day sentence last September, he was detained again.
In April, Europe’s top rights court ruled that Russia had violated Navalny’s human rights by holding him under house arrest for a lengthy spell in 2014.
He was barred from taking on Putin at the ballot box during Russia’s presidential election last year, in what supporters argue is a brazen attempt by the Kremlin to keep a dangerous opponent from the stage.
His anti-corruption rhetoric is hugely popular among younger people who follow his online channels and blogs.
The Yale-educated lawyer has faced a string of criminal charges since he became the leading opposition figure in Russia, campaigning against Putin’s rule at mass demonstrations in 2011 and 2012.
Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was detained along with more than a thousand of his supporters on Saturday during nationwide rallies against Vladimir Putin as police used force to break up rallies in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Riot police beat protesters with truncheons dragged them along the ground and threw them into police vans in Moscow, in an attempt to disperse a huge crowd that packed Pushkin Square to protest against Putin’s swearing-in ceremony on Monday.
Police grabbed Navalny, 41, soon after he showed up at the rally, as some shouted “Shame” in Ukrainian, a famous slogan of the Kiev uprising that ousted a Kremlin-backed regime in 2014.
Tear gas was also briefly used, AFP correspondents reported from the scene.
Navalny, who was barred from challenging Putin in the March presidential election, had called on Russians to stage a day of rallies across the country under the catchy slogan “Not our Tsar.”
Earlier Saturday, protesters rallied in towns and cities in Russia’s Far East and Siberia and some of those protests were violently broken up.
Independent monitoring group OVD-Info said more than 1,000 people had been detained by police nationwide. Of them, more than 470 were detained in Moscow and more than 50 in second city Saint Petersburg.
Police — which put the Moscow turnout at 1,500 people — warned it would use force and “impact munition” against the demonstrators.
Scuffles also broke out between Navalny’s supporters and pro-Kremlin activists who descended into the square in an apparent effort to sabotage the opposition demonstration.
Anti-Kremlin protesters chanted “the fourth term — in prison” and “sick of you.”
In Saint Petersburg, several thousand people marched along Nevsky Prospect, the city’s main thoroughfare, chanting “Putin is a thief” and “Down with the tsar”.
When police tried to stop the unsanctioned march, protesters pelted them with eggs and water bottles, an AFP reporter said.
‘Putin not a tsar’
“The country needs changes,” said a 20-year-old protester, Stepan Duvanov. “Putin is not a tsar to be sitting (at the Kremlin) forever.”
Elsewhere, many protesters were also detained in a rough manner, observers said.
In the Urals city of Chelyabinsk more than 160 people were detained, while 35 were arrested in the eastern Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, said OVD-Info.
Seventy-five people were detained in the northern city of Yakutsk, while twenty six people including several miners were detained in Novokuznetsk in southwestern Siberia, OVD-Info said.
A number of Navalny’s activists were also arrested across Russia ahead of the protests on Friday.
“Craven old man Putin thinks he is a tsar,” Navalny said on Twitter ahead of the demonstrations.
Observers had expressed fears that the protests could lead to mass arrests after similar rallies in 2012 led to a huge crackdown on the protest movement.
In May 2012, tens of thousands took to the streets to protest Putin’s inauguration for a third Kremlin term, with rallies descending into clashes with police.
Criminal charges were brought against around 30 demonstrators and many of them were sentenced to prison terms of between 2.5 years and 4.5 years.
The 65-year-old Putin, who has ruled Russia for almost two decades, was re-elected for a fourth Kremlin term in March.
He recorded his best ever election performance with more than 76 percent of the vote.
Independent monitors said the election was marred by a lack of genuine competition even though fewer irregularities were reported than in previous years.
‘Journey of an invader’
This year Putin’s minders are planning a fairly low-key inauguration ceremony that will not include a lavish Kremlin reception in an apparent effort to eschew any bad publicity, TV Rain, an independent channel, reported Friday, citing informed sources.
In 2012, Putin’s black cortège raced through the deserted streets of Moscow on the way to his third Kremlin inauguration with authorities cordoning off roads, in what many saw as a major faux pas.
This time Putin will instead meet with volunteers who took part in his election campaign, the television channel said.
Speaking on radio, prominent political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said that throwing a Kremlin banquet for the elites “when the number of poor people is sharply rising due to Western sanctions and counter-sanctions” is now seen as an unaffordable luxury.
Belkovsky said many people saw Putin’s sweeping through deserted streets in the capital in 2012 as a “journey of an invader.”
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said he was briefly detained Thursday for organising illegal protests as Russia prepares to hold presidential polls next month.
Navalny, who has been barred from challenging President Vladimir Putin in the election, now faces a court hearing and up to 30 days in prison after being formally charged.
The prominent Kremlin critic wrote on Twitter on Thursday afternoon: “I came out of the dentist’s and what do you know — the second operative (police) regiment, ‘you’re detained’.”
He later wrote that he was taken to a police station where he was charged with repeatedly breaking rules on holding protests before being released.
“I’ve been released pending trial. I don’t know when the hearing will be,” he wrote on Twitter.
Navalny, who cannot contest the election because of a criminal conviction he says is politically motivated, was detained last month after he appeared at a Moscow rally but released later that day without facing court.
He suggested the delayed hearing was a move by the Kremlin to ensure he would be in prison during the run-up to the election, which he has urged his supporters to boycott.
Navalny’s campaign chief Leonid Volkov was almost simultaneously detained Thursday at a Moscow airport for reasons that were not immediately clear.
Volkov wrote on Twitter he had been held by police at Sheremetyevo airport where he was planning to fly to another Russian city.
On Tuesday a Moscow court sentenced an ally of Navalny, Roman Rubanov, to 10 days in jail for posting a tweet urging supporters to attend the unauthorised 28 January rally.
Navalny was also questioned this month by investigators from the powerful Investigative Committee over an allegation that he attacked police during his detention after the protest.
If charged, he could face a jail term.
The latest detentions come ahead of a march on Sunday in memory of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down three years ago on a bridge close to the Kremlin.
Navalny has recently caused controversy with a viral video report alleging influential Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko enjoyed lavish hospitality from billionaire tycoon Oleg Deripaska.
On Wednesday his anti-corruption foundation released a fresh YouTube video related to the allegations that has already been viewed more than 750,000 times.
Russia’s media watchdog last week blocked Navalny’s website.
Both Deripaska and Prikhodko deny the allegations.
Navalny has faced a string of administrative and criminal charges that he and his supporters see as politically motivated since he became the leading opposition figure campaigning against Putin’s rule at mass rallies in 2011 and 2012.
Moscow police broke Sunday into the headquarters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and detained his aides as Russians rallied across the country to protest upcoming “pseudo-elections.”
Ahead of the main protests in Moscow and Saint Petersburg police broke into Navalny’s headquarters in the Russian capital using a power saw, to interrupt a live broadcast covering a series of protests in the east of the country.
Police also detained several employees of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation as well as supporters in the regions, his team said.
The charismatic 41-year-old opposition politician reiterated his call for Russians to stage rallies calling for an active boycott of a March 18 presidential poll that he and his allies refer to as “pseudo-elections”, despite the prospect of mass arrests.
“If you don’t go, you won’t forgive yourself later,” he said in a video address.
“Sooner or later they will cut your door too.”
– ‘Police are everywhere’ – Navalny also said he planned to join the main Moscow rally set to begin at 1100 GMT, admitting that he would most likely be arrested.
He said police officers were watching his residential building and garage but added that he was not home. “Police, police, police are everywhere,” he added.
Authorities dramatically beefed up security in the centre of Moscow, dispatching police vans and passenger buses to Tverskaya Avenue, the Russian capital’s main thoroughfare.
Earlier Sunday opposition supporters rallied in far eastern Russia and Siberia, including in the northern city of Yakutsk where Russians rallied despite temperatures of around minus 45 Celsius (minus 49 Fahrenheit).
Overall, around 40 people were detained across the country, said OVD-Info, an independent group which monitors crackdowns on demonstrations.
‘Thieves, bigots, perverts’
“Your life is at stake,” Navalny told supporters in a video address earlier this week.
“How many more years do you want to live with these thieves, bigots and perverts in power? We’ve already endured this for 18 years.”
Navalny warned that authorities planned to clamp down on his youngest supporters, tweeting a screenshot of a text message sent around ahead of the rallies.
The message urged parents to make sure their children do not attend the Sunday protests. “Raids are possible,” it said.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that unsanctioned rallies would lead to “certain consequences” — a thinly-veiled promise of punishment.
Navalny — seen as the only politician with enough stamina to take on Putin — has built a robust protest movement despite constant police harassment, tapping into the anger of a younger generation yearning for change.
He says the upcoming election will be little more than a coronation of Putin who is expected to win a fourth presidential term and extend his Kremlin power until 2024.
Last year Navalny mounted a forceful bid to run for president but officials ruled him ineligible due to a criminal conviction which he says is politically motivated.
Navalny has said he would use the full force of his campaign — including over 200,000 volunteers — to organise “voters’ strikes” and encourage Russians to stay away from polling stations on election day.
After 18 years of leadership, both as president and prime minister, Putin fatigue is spreading across Russia.
The Kremlin’s biggest headache is the possibility of a low turnout which will harm Putin’s hopes for a strong new mandate, analysts say.
Navalny seeks to take the shine off Putin’s expected victory and highlight voter apathy in his crusade against the 65-year-old leader.
“Turnout at these elections is extremely important for Putin,” Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Centre, an independent polling group, told AFP.
“He needs to create the impression of not just a convincing victory but unanimous nationwide support, a plebiscite.”
In a November poll by the Levada Centre, just 58 percent of respondents said they planned to vote, down from 69 percent before the 2012 election and 75 percent before the 2008 vote.
Putin won the previous election in 2012 on a turnout of 65 percent and authorities are pulling out all the stops to boost the figures this year.
“People’s readiness to go to polls was low before the New Year but it’s increasing now,” said Gudkov, speaking after receiving new data which the pollster would not publicise.
Labelled a “foreign agent,” the Levada Centre has announced it would not be publishing pre-election surveys for fear of running into trouble with the authorities.
Thousands of Russians on Sunday endorsed the candidacy of Alexei Navalny, seen as the only Russian opposition leader who stands a fighting chance of challenging strongman Vladimir Putin in a March vote.
Thousands of people who back the charismatic 41-year-old lawyer were meeting in 20 Russian cities to nominate him as a candidate in the presence of electoral officials to boost his chances of making the presidential vote.
In Moscow alone, more than 700 people supported Navalny’s candidacy as they gathered in a huge tent set up in a picturesque park on the snow-covered banks of the Moscow River.
“I am hugely happy, I am proud to tell you that I stand here as a candidate of the entire Russia,” the plucky Western-educated lawyer told supporters at the Moscow event which at times felt like a US campaign conference.
“We are ready to win and we will win these elections,” Navalny said before finishing his speech in a cloud of confetti.
Two members of the Central Election Commission attended the Moscow event, Navalny’s campaign said.
Earlier Sunday supporters in other Russian cities also endorsed his candidacy, including more than 800 people in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, more than 900 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg and over 700 in Novosibirsk in Siberia, his campaign said.
Electoral officials have deemed Navalny ineligible to run due to a criminal conviction, saying “only a miracle” would help him get registered.
Navalny, who has tapped into the anger of a younger generation who grew up under Putin and yearn for change, hopes that popular support for his Kremlin bid would pressure authorities into putting his name on the ballot.
– ‘Thwart dishonest elections’ –
An independent candidate needs at least 500 votes to get registered with election authorities, according to legislation.
Navalny has said he would get at least 500 Russians in each of the 20 cities to support his candidacy to make it harder for the authorities to reject his bid.
Putin, 65, announced this month that he will seek a fourth presidential term, which would extend his rule until 2024 and make him the longest-serving Russian leader since dictator Joseph Stalin.
Opposed by token opposition candidates, he is widely expected to sail to victory.
On Sunday, Navalny reiterated his threat to call for a boycott of the polls if he did not get registered.
“Thwart the elections if they are dishonest,” he said.
With the result of the March vote a foregone conclusion, turnout could be low, harming Putin’s hopes for a clear mandate, observers say.
“If Navalny is not allowed to run I am not going to vote,” pensioner Marina Kurbatskaya told AFP in Moscow. “I don’t see anyone else who I want to become president.”
Navalny has built a robust protest movement in the face of persistent harassment and jumped through multiple hoops as he campaigned across the country in an effort to shift attitudes amid widespread political ennui.
He says he is the only Russian politician who has run a genuine Western-style political campaign, stumping for votes in far-flung regions.
Many critics scoff at Navalny’s Kremlin bid but the anti-corruption blogger says he would beat Putin in a free election if he had access to state-controlled television, the main source of news for a majority of Russians.
– ‘Need new president’ –
Navalny shot to prominence as an organiser of huge anti-Putin rallies that shook Russia in 2011 and 2012 following claims of vote-rigging in parliamentary polls.
The rallies gradually died down but he has been able to breathe new life into the protest movement this year, bringing out tens of thousands of mostly young protesters onto the streets.
“Navalny is the only real opposition candidate,” Sergei Dmitriyev, 60, told AFP in the second city of Saint Petersburg where more than a thousand supporters gathered to support Navalny’s bid.
“We need a new president,” added Alexander Semyonov, 18.
Despite a litany of problems such as corruption, poor healthcare and increasing poverty, opinion polls suggest Putin enjoys approval ratings of 80 percent.
Asked why Navalny had been barred from running, Putin – who has refused to mention him by name in public — said the opposition was hoping for a “coup” but would not succeed.