A Russian court on Thursday rejected opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s appeal against his arrest, while authorities held several of his allies and issued warnings to social media companies after tens of thousands swarmed the streets of more than 100 Russian cities last weekend demanding his release.
Speaking to the court via video link from prison, Navalny condemned criminal proceedings against him as part of the government’s attempt to intimidate the opposition.
“You will not succeed in intimidating tens of millions of people who have been robbed by that government,” he said.
The 44-year-old Navalny, the most notorious critic of President Vladimir Putin’s government, was arrested on January 17 when he returned from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have denied the allegations.
Navalny was jailed for 30 days at the request of Russia’s penitentiary service, which accused him of violating conditions of a suspended sentence due to a 2014 money laundering conviction, which he rejected as politically motivated. He is now also facing charges in two separate criminal trials.
The Moscow District Court on Thursday rejected his appeal against the arrest.
During the court hearing, Navalny’s defense argued that he was undergoing rehabilitation in Germany and that he could not register with authorities as required by the test during the period. His lawyers also questioned his arrest, accusing him of repeatedly breaking the lawsuit.
In his remarks during the hearing, Navalny condemned his imprisonment during a court hearing that was quickly arranged at a police station as a mockery of justice.
“It was demonstrative lawlessness that was meant to scare me and everyone else,” he said.
In an obvious effort to counter the next wave of rallies held on Sunday, police on Wednesday searched Navalny’s apartment, a rented home where Navalny’s wife, Yulia, has lived and the homes of several of his co-workers and supporters.
Navalny’s brother Oleg, his main ally Lyubov Sobol, Dr Anastasia Vasilyeva of the Navalny-backed alliance of doctors and Maria Alyokhina of the Pussy Riot punk collective were detained for 48 hours as part of a criminal investigation into alleged violations of coronavirus rules during weekend protests.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said searches and detentions were a legitimate part of the police’s efforts to investigate the alleged violations during Saturday’s meetings.
“Law enforcement agencies are doing their job,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. “There were many violations of Russian laws and law enforcement agencies working.”
Russian prosecutors on Thursday also issued warnings to Facebook, Google, Twitter, TikTok and Russian social networks, demanding that they block calls for more protests.
“The state does not want social networks to be a platform to promote such illegal acts,” Peskov said.
Asked if their refusal to remove such content could cause Russian authorities to block them, Peskov replied that it would be up to the relevant authorities to consider an answer.
“All the pros and cons will be weighed and, if necessary, the measures provided for in the law will be taken,” he said.
Earlier this week, Russia’s state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor said it would fine Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube and two Russian social networks for their failure to block minors from participating in Saturday’s protests.
Russia’s commission of inquiry also said on Thursday that it had launched a criminal probe into Navalny’s chief strategist Leonid Volkov and accused him of encouraging minors to attend unauthorized meetings. Volkov, who is currently staying abroad, denied the allegations.
Moscow police on Thursday issued a statement to the public not to join the protests on Sunday, warning that it would take decisive action to disseminate unsanctioned meetings and bring the participants to justice.
In a challenge to Putin two days after Navalny’s arrest, his organization released a comprehensive video report on a palace coastal association allegedly built for the president. It has been viewed more than 98 million times, further causing dissatisfaction.
Demonstrations demanding the release of Navalny took place in more than 100 cities across the country last Saturday, a strong display of growing anger against the Kremlin. Nearly 4,000 people were reportedly imprisoned during these protests and some received fines and imprisonment.
Speaking during Thursday’s court hearing, Navalny thanked his supporters and said “they are the last hurdle preventing our country from slipping into disintegration.”
Navalny fell into a coma while boarding a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later. Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, showed that he was exposed to the Novichok nerve agent in the Soviet era.
Russian authorities have refused to launch a full-fledged criminal investigation, citing a lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned.
Navalny’s arrest and the harsh police action during the protests have drawn criticism from the Western world and demanded his release.