MOSCOW (AFP) – Top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was set to appear in court on Monday after he and more than 1,000 other people were arrested at an anti-corruption protest in Moscow.The United States and the European Union voiced deep concern about the detentions, with the State Department describing them as an “affront to democracy”.
Navalny had called for the protests that swept the country Sunday after he published a report earlier this month accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of controlling a property empire through a murky network of nonprofit organisations.
As well as Moscow and Saint Petersburg, a number of provincial cities where protests are rarely seen also held demonstrations, attracting a significant number of minors born during President Vladimir Putin’s 17 years in power.
Navalny, who has announced plans to run for president in the 2018 election, was arrested as he was walking to the Moscow protest.
About 7,000 to 8,000 people demonstrated in the heart of the Russian capital, according to police, making it one of the biggest unauthorised rallies in recent years.
Navalny, who spent the night in police custody, could face up to 15 days in police cells for having called for unsanctioned protests, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh wrote on Twitter.
About 1,030 people were arrested at the Moscow rally, according OVD-Info, a website that monitors the detention of activists.
The vast majority were released overnight after being fined, while about 120 remained in police custody on Monday, OVD-Info said.
One policeman was hospitalised after suffering a head injury during the Moscow rally, the interior ministry said.
The European Union urged Russia to release the demonstrators “without delay”.
An EU spokesman said the police action had “prevented the exercise of basic freedoms of expression” association and peaceful assembly — which are fundamental rights enshrined in the Russian constitution”.
“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.”
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the detention of “peaceful protesters, human rights observers, and journalists is an affront to core democratic values”.
– ‘Hope for a normal future’ –
“I am proud of those who took to the streets today,” Navalny wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “You are the country’s best people and Russia’s hope for a normal future.”
Liberal business newspaper Vedomosti newspaper said Monday that the protests were reminiscent of the mass anti-government rallies that swept Russia in 2011 over vote-rigging after a parliamentary election, which snowballed into the biggest challenge against Putin since he took power in 2000.
The Russian constitution allows public gatherings, but recent laws have criminalised protests unauthorised by city authorities, which frequently refuse to grant permission for rallies by Kremlin critics.
Navalny, a 40-year-old lawyer by training, first announced plans to run for the presidency after he won a surprise 27 percent of the vote in the Moscow mayoral election in 2013.
But he has been the subject of several legal prosecutions in recent years, and in February he was found guilty of embezzlement and given a five-year suspended sentence which could make him ineligible to run in next year’s vote.
MOSCOW (AFP) – Anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny has cemented his status as leader of Russia’s opposition movement by organising the largest unauthorised protest in recent years against President Vladimir Putin’s rule.The clean-cut lawyer, 40, who was arrested at Sunday’s demonstration in Moscow, is no stranger to clashes with the Kremlin.
He has spent time under house arrest and seen his brother jailed in a string of cases he has denounced as retribution for his challenging authorities and exposing the vast wealth of the president’s inner circle.
Late last year, in his most ambitious move yet, he announced he would run for president in 2018, an election that Putin is expected to dominate.
This month he posted a YouTube video tracing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s links to mansions, yachts and vineyards that has been viewed 12 million times.
No official response followed, and Navalny called supporters to protest across Russia. Thousands turned out in Moscow, where some 1,000 people were arrested including Navalny.
He now faces up to 15 days in police cells, according to OVD-Info, a website that monitors the detention of activists
In February Navalny was found guilty in a retrial of an embezzlement case that could mean he is not eligible to stand for president — though he insists he will not be forced out of the race.
Though criticised by some liberals for his anti-immigrant nationalist stance, Navalny has tapped into discontent among the young urban middle class with fiery speeches and Western-style campaigning.
“I will discuss what everyone has been silent about but has needed to be said for a long time,” Navalny said in December when announcing his bid for the presidency.
But in an environment where the media and the political landscape are tightly controlled by the Kremlin, he remains a fringe figure for most Russians, who are more likely to believe the official portrayal of him as a Western stooge and convicted criminal.
“Navalny is a unique politician of the younger generation,” said Nikolai Petrov, a professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, adding that he had managed to develop a high profile “at a time when public politics has ceased to exist.”
– Protests and payback –
During the mass protests of 2011, sparked by allegations of vote rigging in parliamentary polls, Navalny grabbed attention with his uncompromising rhetoric.
In front of crowds of tens of thousands, he coined catchy phrases such as the “party of crooks and thieves” to slam the governing United Russia.
Although the protests petered out after a crackdown by the authorities and Putin sailed to a third term in March 2012, they helped launch Navalny’s political career.
In 2013 he ran a crowd-funded campaign to be mayor of Moscow and ended up finishing second behind the Kremlin candidate, with over 27 percent of the vote.
But Navalny was also facing a series of legal cases against him, a campaign that supporters saw as a sign the Kremlin was running scared.
In July 2013 he was found guilty in an embezzlement case involving an allegedly crooked timber deal and given a five-year suspended sentence.
Navalny was then forced to spend months under house arrest and often kept incommunicado over another graft case linked to the French cosmetics company Yves Rocher.
He was also given a suspended sentence in that case, but his brother Oleg, a co-defendant was jailed for three and a half years.
– Palaces and pooches –
Despite his travails, Navalny has kept trying to expose the lavish wealth of the elites of the Putin era, broadcasting the findings of his investigations to his 1.8 million Twitter followers.
Trawling through land registries and the filings of offshore companies, Navalny and his team have helped lay bare the hidden fortunes of high-ranking officials.
Among his most eye-catching exposes have been details on the palatial homes of Putin’s allies in Russia and abroad — including one kitted out with a vast storage room for fur coats built by Vladimir Yakunin, former chief of Russia’s national railways.
In July 2016, as Western sanctions over Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis and low oil prices hit average Russians hard, Navalny revealed that deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov was sending his pet corgis on private jets to dog shows around Europe.
“Dear friends, those who voted for Putin and United Russia, you made it possible for Russian officials to steal completely openly and live as they do,” Navalny said in an online video.
“Please don’t ever do this again.”