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Opposition supporters participate in an anti-corruption rally in central Saint Petersburg yesterday. SIPA USA/PA Images
The Kremlin

Russian opposition leader jailed following unsanctioned Moscow protest

Alexei Navalny has been a vocal critic of the Kremlin.

RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER Alexei Navalny has been jailed for 15 days for resisting police orders after he and more than 1,000 other demonstrators were detained yesterday at an anti-corruption protest in Moscow.

The protests were branded a “provocation” by the Kremlin.

The United States and the European Union have voiced deep concern about the detentions during the biggest protests seen in Russia in recent years, with the State Department describing them as an “affront to democracy”.

A Moscow district court also ordered Navalny, who said he plans to run for president next year, to pay a 20,000-ruble (€320) fine for having organised an unsanctioned protest.

Navalny had called for yesterday’s protests after publishing a report accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of controlling a property empire through a murky network of non-profit organisations.

Russia Protests Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears in court in Moscow, Russia, earlier today. AP Photo / Denis Tyrin AP Photo / Denis Tyrin / Denis Tyrin

“The authorities are being accused of multi-million theft, but they remain silent,” a haggard-looking Navalny said in court, insisting the protests were legal.

“More than 1,000 people were arrested yesterday but it is impossible to arrest millions,” the 40-year-old lawyer said.

About 7,000 to 8,000 people demonstrated in the heart of the Russian capital on yesterday, according to police, making it one of the biggest unauthorised rallies in recent years.

The Kremlin branded the protest a “provocation”, claiming children had been promised “financial rewards” to demonstrate.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin respects the population’s “civic stance” when expressed in accordance with the law.

Without mentioning Navalny by name, Peskov said the Kremlin was worried that “some people will continue using (politically) active people… to their own ends, calling them to illegal and unauthorised actions”.

Russia Protest Police detain young protesters in downtown Moscow. AP Photo / Alexander Zemlianichenko AP Photo / Alexander Zemlianichenko / Alexander Zemlianichenko

Demonstrations were held not just in Moscow and Russia’s second city Saint Petersburg but also in a number of provincial cities where protests are rarely seen.

They attracted a significant number of minors born during President Vladimir Putin’s 17 years in power.

“I am very happy that a generation that wants to be citizens, that isn’t afraid, was born in the country,” Navalny said.

Free protesters ‘without delay’

Navalny was arrested as he was walking to the Moscow protest and another 1,030 people were detained, according OVD-Info, a website that monitors detentions of activists.

The vast majority were released overnight after being fined, while about 120 remained in custody today, OVD-Info said.

One policeman was hospitalised after suffering a head injury, the interior ministry said.

The European Union urged Russia to release the demonstrators “without delay”.

Russia: Anti Corruption Protest In Russia SIPA USA / PA Images SIPA USA / PA Images / PA Images

An EU spokesman said police actions 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’

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.

Navalny said Sunday that he was “proud” of the demonstrators.

“You are the country’s best people and Russia’s hope for a normal future,” he wrote on Twitter.

Despite the large scale of the protests, Russian state television news did not cover them, instead broadcasting soap operas and nature films.

Pro-Kremlin television host Vladimir Solovyov accused Navalny during a talk show on Sunday of being a “paid provocateur” seeking to “destroy” the country.

Russia: Anti Corruption Protest In Russia Photo by Valya Egorshin / NurPhoto Photo by Valya Egorshin / NurPhoto / NurPhoto

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 first announced plans to run for the presidency after he won a surprise 27% 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 in a case he has condemned as politically motivated and given a five-year suspended sentence which could make him ineligible to run in next year’s vote.

© – AFP, 2017 With reporting from AP

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