News of the Day: 31 January 2021

Amnesty International: All peaceful protesters detained today in Moscow and other Russian cities must be released immediately and unconditionally, and all instances of unlawful use of force by police promptly and effectively investigated, Amnesty International said. Today’s arrests and violent dispersals were the latest crackdown by Russian authorities on overwhelmingly peaceful protesters demanding the release of Alexei Navalny. “Russian authorities have arrested so many people in recent weeks that detention centres in Moscow have run out of space, and peaceful protesters are being held in deportation facilities. Trying to lock up every critic in the country is a losing game – the Russian authorities  should instead recognize how much the rights  to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression mean to a growing number of Russians, and allow people to express their opinions without fear of retaliation.

Human Rights Watch: For the second weekend in a row, Russian police forcibly and at times brutally dispersed peaceful protests, arbitrarily detaining more than 5,000 people across Russia, Human Rights Watch said today. That topped the previous record for the largest number of people detained on a single day, set on January 23, 2021. The protesters expressed outrage over the arrest of political opposition figure Alexei Navalny and state corruption, among other grievances. The authorities responded to the January 31 protests as they had the previous weekend, with numerous incidents of police brutality caught on cameras by journalists and private citizens, detentions of journalists and passers-by, and the opening of criminal cases against protesters. Again police arrested and raided the homes of Navalny’s associates and others the day before the protest, in a clear effort to stop them protesting and to intimidate others. Like last week, incidents of violence by protesters were isolated and almost exclusively in response to police use of force. “Russian authorities continue to pervert reality and pretend peaceful protesters are a violent mob, which they clearly are not,” said Damelya Aitkhozhina, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Russian authorities are heading the wrong way with more abusive security measures, more police on the streets, and more footage of injured people – they need to start listening to the peaceful protesters and respecting their rights.”

The Guardian: Police have paralysed the centres of Russia’s largest cities, including Moscow, as the Kremlin sought to beat back rallies in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the country’s most significant protests in a decade. Supporters of the Kremlin critic took to the streets to protest against his jailing, despite biting cold and the threat of arrest. At least 4,700 people, including Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, were detained as the rallies across the country entered a second week. Taking unprecedented security measures, riot police and national guards troops shut down seven central metro stations in Moscow and blocked off streets to prevent a repeat of last week’s record protests, some of the largest since 2012. The unsanctioned protests deteriorated into a cat-and-mouse game as riot police armed with batons and stun guns pursued protesters through the capital. The hours-long chase was punctuated by clashes and brutal arrests. One man was severely injured after dousing himself with gasoline and setting himself on fire, apparently in an act of protest. He was hospitalised in critical condition.

RFE/RL: Russian police used heavy force in detaining more than 4,000 people nationwide as demonstrators took to the streets for a second-straight weekend to demand the release of jailed opposition politician and anti-corruption activist Aleksei Navalny. Riot police were filmed dragging protesters to awaiting vehicles in multiple cities and beating and using tasers against participants of the unsanctioned rallies called by Navalny and his team. Navalny’s wife was among the more than 840 people detained in Moscow, where the activist is being held for 30 days while he awaits trial for violating parole.

RFE/RL: A court in Russia has ordered Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s brother, Oleg, to be held in pretrial detention until March 23. The Tverskoi district court announced the ruling on January 29, a day after Oleg Navalny had been arrested by police on a charge of breaking coronavirus restrictions.

The Moscow Times: Russians nationwide are staging a second round of protests calling for jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s release despite a growing crackdown and threats of prosecution by the authorities. Navalny’s allies called for new protests to demand his release after tens of thousands took to the streets nationwide at last Saturday’s protests, resulting in a single-day record of over 4,000 detentions. The Kremlin critic faces up to 3.5 years in jail in a trial that starts this week on charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence while recovering from Novichok poisoning in Germany. The days ahead of Sunday’s protests were marked by an intensifying crackdown against Navalny’s allies and family members, with his brother Oleg and lawyer Lyubov Sobol placed under pre-trial house arrest on charges of violating coronavirus restrictions by calling people to join protests. Authorities also issued an arrest warrant in absentia for Leonid Volkov, a top Navalny aide based in Lithuania, as part of a criminal case on inciting minors to attend unauthorized protests.

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