Police on Sunday more than 1,000 people detained and meetings broken up in Moscow and across Russia supporters of the Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny took to the streets go to protest his imprisonment, despite the cold and the threat of arrest.
The nationwide rallies follow major protests over the weekend that are part of a campaign to pressure the Kremlin to free President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent.
The opposition politician was arrested on January 17 after returning from Germany to Moscow, where he recovered from a nerve agent poisoning in Russia last summer. He accuses Putin of ordering his assassination, which the Kremlin denies.
Moscow police detained at least 100 people when the marches fell under snow around 0900 GMT, amid a large police presence, Reuters reporters said. OVD-Info, a protest monitoring group, said police detained 1,009 people nationwide.
Yulia, a 40-year-old protester in Moscow, said she came to the protests despite a panic attack the night before because she was worried about the consequences of participating.
“I understand that I live in a lawless state. In a police state, without independent courts. In a country ruled by corruption. I would like to live differently, ”she said.
Police said the protest was illegal because it has not been approved and that it will be broken up. Authorities said protesters could disperse COVID-19.
Crowds of protesters were dispersed in Moscow after organizers changed the planned gathering place twice, as police took extremely unusual steps to block access to pedestrians in areas of the capital and close subway stations.
The police acted with the Moscow demonstration against 300 people.
In the far eastern city of Vladivostok, police prevented protesters from gaining access to the city center, forcing them to move to the waterfront at the frozen Amur Bay.
The protest is a test of Navalny’s support after many of its prominent allies were targeted in a crackdown this week. Several, including his brother Oleg, are under house arrest.
“If we keep quiet, they can come for any of us tomorrow,” Kremlin critic Yulia Navalnaya wrote on Instagram.
Navalny (44) is accused of parole offenses which he believes are being taken. A court is due to meet next week to give him a prison sentence of up to three and a half years.
The West has called on Moscow to let Navalny go and its allies have called on US President Joe Biden to impose sanctions on 35 people they say are Putin’s closest allies.
In search of supporters at home, Navalny released an online video that has been viewed more than 100 million times this month, accusing Putin of being the ultimate owner of a lavish Black Palace. The Kremlin leader denied this.
On the eve of the protests, Arkady Rotenberg, a businessman and Putin’s former partner in judo sparring, said he owned the property.