Police clashes with police during a protest in support of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Russia. A human rights group that oversees political repression said at least 1,700 people were arrested across the country in connection with the protests. Dmitri Lovetsky / AP Hide caption
Dmitri Lovetsky / AP
Dmitri Lovetsky / AP
More than 1,700 protesters were arrested in Russia on Wednesday as tens of thousands of Alexei Navalny supporters marched to demonstrations across the country.
OVD-info, the Russian human rights monitoring project, has followed up fears that began ahead of protests against the Kremlin’s release of the imprisoned opposition leader.
Navalny is on a three-week hunger strike in prison where his doctor is said Earlier this week he could die “at any moment” without proper medical care. Supporters organized the rallies – despite a national ban – to pressure President Vladimir Putin and his government to release the anti-corruption fighter and prevent the Kremlin from closing Navalny’s organization.
The marches swept over dozen of cities and were scheduled on the same day that Putin gave Russia’s address for the state of the Union. As the crowd increased in many places, protesters faced heavy police presence in most of the major cities.
“As an exception, the police resigned and let them march – without pulling screaming demonstrators into their vans,” said the BBC reported from Moscow. “It was different in St. Petersburg: hundreds were arrested there, and some were stunned by the police with electric batons.”
The Russian Interior Ministry estimated that about 6,000 supporters for Navalny turned out to be in Moscow and another 4,500 hit the streets in St. Petersburg, the Moscow Times reported. However, observers say that voter turnout in Moscow alone was tens of thousands, according to the outlet. Police in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city, also reported numbers significantly lower than the numbers estimated by Navalny’s office. Officials said about 5,000 people attended the rally, while the local Navalny office said 13,000-14,000 attended the event.
Navalny is the most prominent opposition figure in Russia, and the authorities have petitioned the Moscow City Court to designate the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation and its regional network as “extremist”. This would put them in the same category as ISIS and pave the way for the government to essentially ban the organization and impose prison sentences on staff and supporters. The court will consider the application in a closed hearing on April 26, the Moscow Times reported.
“The arrest of Alexei Navalny’s supporters ahead of planned protests in Russia is regrettable,” said Charles Michel, President of the European Council. said on twitter.
“The authorities must respect the right of assembly,” added Michel.
“I urgently demand that Alexei Navalny provide the necessary high-quality medical care and that he be released from prison.”
The authorities must respect the right of assembly.
I urge Alexey Navalny to be provided with the necessary high quality medical care and to release him from prison.
– Charles Michel (@eucopresident) April 21, 2021
The 44-year-old was arrested in mid-January after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was treated for nerve agent poisoning orchestrated by Putin. He started the hunger strike after prison officials refused to adequately treat him for leg and back pain, adding that the two are likely related to his poisoning.
On Monday, Russian prison authorities announced that Navalny had been transferred to a medical unit in another prison, where he was undergoing “vitamin therapy”. But Navalny said prison officials threatened to force-feed him.
Despite the action and the threat to the organizations of the Kremlin critics, Navalny’s supporters say they will not surrender.
“It is of course an element of escalation,” Vladimir Ashurkov, an ally of Navalny who is also director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, told the AP.
“But I have to say that despite the previous pressure, we were able to regroup and organize our work. I am confident that we will find ways to work now too … We have neither the intention nor the opportunity to give this up, I do what we have. “