Russian police arrest hundreds of protesters in support of Putin’s opponent Navalny

Police detained at least 300 people in protests across Russia in support of the imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Wednesday, said the OVD Info protest the monitoring group.

Supporters of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponents fear that he may soon die in prison, where he is on hunger strike, and demand that he receive proper medical care. Officials say he has been treated as any other convict would be and has warned that the meetings are illegal.

Many of the protesters were seized before protests even began, including two top Navalny collaborators in Moscow.

Navalny’s team called for the non-sanctioned demonstrations following reports that his health was deteriorating while he was on hunger strike, which he launched on March 31.

“The situation with Alexei is really critical, so we moved up the day of the mass protests,” Vladimir Ashurkov, a close Navalny ally and executive director of the Foundation for Fighting Corruption, told the Associated Press. “Alexey’s health has deteriorated sharply and he is in a rather critical condition. Doctors say judging by his test [results], he should be admitted to intensive care. ”

His organization had said protests would take place in more than 180 cities, but it was not immediately clear if they would match the massive turnout in January, which was the largest in Russia in a decade.

Protests in support of Navalny began in each city around 7pm and moved west across the vast country. The largest participants were expected in Moscow, where protesters were called to gather in a square next to the Kremlin and in St. Petersburg.

His team called the nationwide protests the same day that Putin held his annual state address. In his speech, he condemned the alleged attempts of foreign governments to implement Russia’s will. Putin, who never publicly uses Navalny’s name, did not say who the dismissal referred to, but Western governments have been harshly criticized for Navalny’s treatment and have demanded his release.

Two senior employees detained

In Moscow, Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh and Lyubov Sobol, one of his most prominent collaborators, were arrested this morning.

Yarmysh, who was placed under house arrest after the January protests, was detained outside her apartment building when she went out during the hour she is allowed to leave, her lawyer Veronika Polyakova said. She was taken to a police station and accused of organizing an illegal gathering.

Sobol was removed from a taxi by uniformed police, her lawyer Vladimir Voronin said.

OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests and offers help to detainees, reported that the police were looking for offices in Navalny’s organization in Yekaterinburg and detained a Navalny-affiliated journalist in Khabarovsk.

In St. Petersburg issued a statement warning the State University of Aerospace Instrumentation that students participating in unauthorized demonstrations could be expelled.

The 44-year-old Navalny was arrested in January when he returned from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve poisoning he blames on the Kremlin. Russian officials have denied the allegations.

Shortly afterwards, a court found that Navalny’s long stay in Germany violated the terms of a suspended sentence he was convicted of in 2014 for embezzlement and ordered him to serve 2 years in prison.

Navalny began the hunger strike to protest against prison officials’ refusal to allow his doctors to visit when he began to experience severe back pain and loss of feeling in his legs. The prison service has said that Navalny received all the medical help he needed.

Navalny ‘can die at any time’

Navalny’s doctor, Dr. Yaroslav Ashikhmin, recently said that test results he received from Navalny’s family showed greatly elevated levels of potassium, which can cause cardiac arrest and increased creatinine levels, indicating impaired kidneys and “he could die at any time. ”.

On Sunday, he was taken to a hospital in another prison and given a drop of glucose. Prison officials rejected attempts by his doctor to visit him there.

Russian authorities have escalated their violence against Navalny’s allies and supporters. The Moscow prosecutor’s office is asking a court to label the Navalny Foundation for Fighting Corruption and its network of regional offices as extremist organizations. Human rights activists say such a move would paralyze the groups’ activities and subject their members and donors to up to ten years in prison.

Navalny’s allies promised to continue their work despite the pressure.

“It is, of course, an element of escalation,” Ashurkov told the Associated Press. “But I must say that we managed to regroup and organize our work despite the press earlier. I am convinced that even now we will find ways to work … We have neither the intention nor the opportunity to abandon what we do. ”

( Jowhar with REUTERS and AP)