Week-ending 22 January 2021
On 17 January 2021 the Russian authorities arrested Aleksei Navalny when he arrived in Moscow by plane from Berlin. The next day at a court hearing held in a police station, a judge remanded Aleksei Navalny in custody for 30 days pending a parole review. Amnesty International declared Navalny a prisoner of conscience and Memorial Human Rights Centre declared him a political prisoner. They were joined in calling for Navalny’s release by Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations. The EU and the USA condemned the jailing of Aleksei Navalny. On 19 January Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation issued a new online investigation into what it calls ‘Putin’s Palace’ in Krasnodar region on the Black Sea coast.
Amnesty International, 17 January 2021: Russian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release prominent Kremlin critic, Aleksei Navalny, detained minutes after he arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport from Berlin, Amnesty International said today. Navalny had been recovering in the German capital after being poisoned in Siberia in August. “Aleksei Navalny’s arrest is further evidence that Russian authorities are seeking to silence him. His detention only highlights the need to investigate his allegations that he was poisoned by state agents acting on orders from the highest levels,” said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.
Amnesty International, 21 January 2021: On 17 January, prominent Russian anti-corruption and opposition activist Aleksei Navalny was arrested at the airport as he returned to Moscow. He has narrowly survived what has since been independently confirmed as poisoning by Novichok nerve agent in August 2020 and spent the last five months in Germany recovering. He is a prisoner of conscience, his detention arbitrary and politically motivated.
The Guardian, 17 January 2021: The Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny has been detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport shortly after returning from treatment abroad for a suspected poisoning attempt on his life by Russia’s FSB spy agency. Navalny, whose investigations into corruption in Vladimir Putin’s inner circle have sparked protests and angered the country’s most powerful men, had vowed to return home despite signs the Kremlin was preparing to arrest him. Police detained Navalny shortly after his flight from Berlin landed on Sunday evening. It was due to touch down at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, where hundreds of supporters had gathered. The authorities closed the airport at the last minute, with Navalny’s plane diverted to Sheremetyevo and away from waiting media. Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said the Kremlin was terrified of Navalny and of images showing large crowds wanting to greet him. “Until recently, it was impossible to believe they [the authorities] were so scared. But here’s the confirmation,” she tweeted.
The Guardian, 17 January 2021: The Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny has arrived in Moscow nearly five months after a suspected poisoning by Russia’s FSB spy agency left him fighting for his life. Navalny’s plane landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday evening after being diverted from Vnukovo airport where supporters and media had been waiting.
The Guardian, 18 January 2021: A judge in Moscow has ordered that Alexei Navalny be held in custody for 30 days until a parole review that could imprison him for years, as Russia defied international pressure to release the Kremlin critic. Despite an international outcry led by US and European leaders and joined by activists including Edward Snowden, a Russian resident, the Kremlin has moved forward with the legal framework it would need to send one of Vladimir Putin’s most tenacious opponents to a penal colony by the end of the month. In response, Navalny has called for mass protests this Saturday. “There’s nothing these thieves in their bunkers fear more than people on the streets,” he said from a Moscow courtroom. The size of those protests could determine whether or not the Putin critic is freed or given a long prison sentence.
Caucasian Knot, 18 January 2021: The detention under a far-fetched pretext of Alexei Navalny, who was not hiding from anyone, is a political reprisal, and the authorities must immediately release the oppositionist, the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Memorial” reports today. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that on January 17, at passport control at the Sheremetyevo Airport, the police detained the oppositionist, who returned from Germany, for violating his suspended sentence.
Amnesty International, 18 January 2021: Reacting to news that prominent Russian opposition activist Aleksei Navalny has been remanded in custody for 30 days, following an unprecedented court “hearing” at the police station where he has been held since being arrested on arrival from Berlin, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, said: “Today’s ‘hearing’ makes a mockery of justice. Not only did the authorities shamelessly bring a judge to the police station to rule on Aleksei Navalny’s detention, but they also denied him access to his lawyer until the last possible moment. No independent media or member of the public was present to witness this farcical ‘hearing’, but to give the illusion of a transparent process, the ‘courtroom’ was packed with representatives of the pro-government press.”
Human Rights Watch, 18 January 2021: A judge in Moscow ruled today that Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition politician, be detained for 30 days pending a court hearing regarding his alleged breach of parole. If found guilty, he could face three-and-a-half years in prison. Authorities detained Navalny, an outspoken Putin critic, at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on January 17, where he arrived after a five-month recuperation in Germany following his near-lethal poisoning by a powerful nerve agent last August. Navalny’s flight was supposed to land at another airport, Vnukovo, but was diverted to Sheremetyevo in an apparent attempt by the authorities to prevent his supporters from greeting him on arrival. Navalny’s treatment has been a travesty of justice. Held overnight at Khimky police station on the outskirts of Moscow, he had no access to his lawyers for 15 hours, despite his and their repeated requests. The next day, instead of taking him to court for a hearing, authorities brought the judge to the police station and informed Navalny’s lawyers of the hearing only a few minutes before it began.
The Guardian, 18 January 2021: The United States and Europe have condemned the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who was detained when returning to Russia for the first time since a suspected poisoning by the FSB last year. Joe Biden’s incoming national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called for Navalny’s immediate release, adding that the “perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable”.
RFE/RL, 18 January 2021: The United States has added its condemnation to the detention of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny as he arrived in Moscow from Germany. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement on January 17 also demanded the “immediate and unconditional release” of the Kremlin critic and said Navalny “is not the problem.”
The Moscow Times: Russian police detained prominent opposition leader Alexey Navalny Sunday on his arrival in Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from an attempted poisoning by the nerve agent Novichok. Navalny — who became a thorn in the Kremlin’s side through his campaigns against corruption and rigged elections in Russia — had been added to Russia’s national wanted persons list on Dec. 29 for parole violations related to a suspended sentence for fraud. Navalny maintains that the fraud case against him is politically motivated. Western experts concluded he was poisoned with Soviet-designed nerve toxin Novichok while Navalny alleges the attack was carried out on Putin’s orders. A recent investigation by the Bellingcat website indicated that Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) was behind his poisoning.
RFE/RL, 18 January 2021: On January 18, at Navalny’s hearing outside Moscow, the judge overseeing proceedings inside the police station holding the opposition leader returned after more than 45 minutes to deliver her ruling. She ordered Navalny jailed for 30 days, long past an expected February 2 hearing regarding his alleged parole violation. Lawyers say the outcome of that process could be a 3 1/2 -year prison sentence, and Navalny could be hit with additional charges that carry a sentence of up to 10 years. Before being led away, Navalny addressed Russians with a call for mass protests across the country on January 23 — throwing down the gauntlet both to a Kremlin reluctant to acknowledge his influence and to a population that he hopes will brave the winter cold, and a likely police crackdown, to demand his freedom. “Don’t be scared,” Navalny said in a video posted from the makeshift courtroom, sitting against the backdrop of a folded Russian flag. “Take to the streets.”
RFE/RL, 19 January 2021: The Anti-Corruption Foundation of Aleksei Navalny issued a fresh investigation on January 19, shining a spotlight on a Black Sea mansion allegedly built for Russian President Vladimir Putin, one day after the opposition leader and Kremlin critic was ordered to remain in custody for 30 days pending trial following his dramatic return to Russia from Germany. The investigation — A Palace For Putin — alleges the luxurious estate on the Black Sea’s exclusive Gelendzhik Bay cost at least 100 billion rubles ($1.35 billion). The report says the site includes a church, a 2,500-square-meter greenhouse, an amphitheater, several residential buildings, and a “special tunnel” that leads to the shore.
RFE/RL, 19 January 2021: Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has been placed in a cell in Moscow’s notorious Matrosskaya Tishina detention center after a judge at a hastily arranged hearing ruled to keep the Kremlin critic in custody for 30 days following his dramatic airport arrest upon arrival from Germany. The Kremlin said on January 19 that it was unfazed by mounting international pressure over the arrest of the 44-year-old, who was detained at the Sheremetyevo International Airport’s passport-control booth after he arrived from Berlin late on January 17, where he had been recovering from a poison attack in August that Navalny says was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Meduza, 19 January 2021: Alexey Navalny returned to Russia last weekend, despite the near certainty that he would be arrested upon arrival in Moscow and probably thrown in prison. Not everyone understands why he did it. Most likely, Navalny came back because he doesn’t believe in living in fear and refuses to trade his freedom for a life in exile. The stakes couldn’t have been clearer after the Russian authorities fabricated entirely new felony allegations and declared that Navalny had “violated the terms of his parole” by staying in Germany to recover from being poisoned. […] Navalny’s remarkable bravery has earned him a reputation among many in Russia and around the world as a true hero. Here at Meduza, we’re just ordinary people. And we worry about what will happen to Navalny in prison. With all this in mind, we demand Alexey Navalny’s immediate release.
Committee to Protect Journalists, 21 January 2021: Russian authorities should cease intimidating and harassing journalists covering protests in the country, and allow members of the press to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Since yesterday, police and the country’s media regulator have issued warnings to at least four journalists, as well as to news outlets and social media platforms, discouraging them from covering protests in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, scheduled for January 23, according to news reports. Authorities arrested Navalny, an opposition politician and an anti-corruption blogger, on January 17 when he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had been hospitalized after being poisoned, allegedly by Russian authorities, in August, according to news reports. “Despite being poisoned and repeatedly thrown into jail, Alexei Navalny refuses to go away, so Russian authorities will likely try to make him and his supporters disappear via censorship,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Journalists must be allowed to report freely and safely on crucial political developments in the country – even the ones that authorities are afraid of.”
In other news:
Meduza: Yulia Navalnaya, the wife of jailed Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, says she’s being followed by the police. She stated this in a Instagram post that included a photo of a vehicle (pictured below), which, according to Navalnaya, has been parked near her home for the past day. That car has been parked near my house for a day already — it’s operational police officers keeping an eye on me. Well, it’s no surprise — yesterday we saw that they’ve started holding mobile “troika” hearings, now they are persecuting me as the wife of an enemy of the people. The Year of ’37 has come and we didn’t notice.
RFE/RL, 16 January 2021: A Russian court has ordered a member of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) accused of inciting extremism on the Internet to be kept in pretrial detention until February 28, according to a top human rights lawyer. Pavel Chikov, head of the legal-aid nongovernmental organization Agora, said on Telegram that the Presnensky District Court issued the ruling against Pavel Zelensky on January 16. The decision comes a day before Navalny is set to fly back to Russia for the first time after spending six months in Germany where he was treated for a near-fatal poisoning, despite the risk of being jailed upon his return. Zelensky, a camera operator for FBK, was detained on January 15 and charged over a tweet he sent last year following the self-immolation of journalist Irina Slavina in the city of Nizhny Novgorod.
The Moscow Times, 19 January 2021: The Kremlin on Tuesday dismissed Western demands to release Russia’s most prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny, saying his calls for mass protests over his arrest were “troubling”. Legal pressure is ramping up against President Vladimir Putin’s best-known domestic critic, who is due in court on defamation charges on Wednesday, as his allies in Russia call for protests in Moscow this weekend. Navalny, 44, was arrested on Sunday as he returned to Russia from Germany for the first time since he recovered from a near-fatal poisoning with the Soviet-designed Novichok nerve agent in August.
The Moscow Times, 19 January 2021: A Moscow court on Wednesday postponed the start of the trial of detained Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on charges of defaming a World War II veteran, his lawyers said. Olga Mikhailova, a lawyer for Navalny, told journalists the court pushed back the trial until Feb. 5 because the opposition figure is currently in virus quarantine after returning from Germany on Sunday and being immediately put behind bars. The court ruled that the “hearing has to take place with his participation,” Mikhailova said, adding that Navalny’s allies supported the decision.
RFE/RL, 19 January 2021: A police officer in the Russian city of Samara has been placed under house arrest on suspicion of leaking data that may have helped the Bellingcat investigative group identify the alleged poisoners of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, the RBC business daily reports, citing its sources. Police officer Kirill Chuprov was detained in December and charged with abuse of power, according to an RBC report from January 19. Chuprov, who may face up to 10 years in prison if convicted, is accused of leaking confidential information from a database containing information about the movement of people across Russia to a third party, according to the RBC source, who is said to be close to the investigation, said.
RFE/RL, 19 January 2021: Single-person protests — the largest allowed by law in Russia — decried the arrest of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny. Navalny has been placed in a cell in Moscow’s notorious Matrosskaya Tishina detention center after a judge at a hastily arranged hearing ruled to keep the Kremlin critic in custody for 30 days following his dramatic airport arrest upon his arrival from Germany. He arrived late on January 17 from Berlin, where he had been recovering from a poison attack in August that Navalny says was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Meduza, 20 January 2021: Team Navalny’s coordinator in Omsk, Olga Kartatseva, has been written up for an administrative violation following a police inspection at the local team office on Monday, January 20. Team Navalny in Omsk” announced that law enforcement had arrived at their headquarters on Twitter. Policemen told the office staff that they wanted to conduct an “inspection” and prohibited them from taking photos and videos during that time.
RFE/RL, 21 January 2021: Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer for Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, has been detained by police on a charge of calling for an unsanctioned rally in relation to a planned nationwide protest on January 23 in support of the jailed Kremlin critic. Sobol’s lawyer, Vladimir Voronin, tweeted on January 21 that police stopped his car and took his client to a police station to charge her there. Before that, three men had been at Sobol’s apartment and tried to hand her a written warning from the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office about the planned protest. Earlier in the day, a lawyer with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund, Vladlen Los, who is Belarusian citizen, was briefly detained and informed that he must leave Russia before January 25.
RAPSI, 21 January 2021: Alexey Navalny and his defense have filed an appeal against a ruling of the Moscow Region’s Khimki Town Court to detain the blogger for 30 days, his attorney Vadim Kobzev has told RAPSI. On January 17, the blogger was arrested at the Sheremetyevo Airport on his return from Germany based on the search warrant issued in late December. Upon a court order, he was placed in detention until February 15.
RFE/RL, 21 January 2021: Russia’s telecommunications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, has urged social-media networks, including the video-sharing app TikTok, to stop the spreading of posts by users that call on Russia’s youth to take part in “illegal” public gatherings, such as one planned for this weekend to support Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny. In a January 20 statement, which was also placed on the VKontakte social network, Roskomnadzor said the request to TikTok had been sent at the request of the Prosecutor-General’s Office. “Materials are being spread via TikTok, calling young users of the social network to take part in illegal mass protest events,” the statement says.
RFE/RL, 21 January 2021: Russian officials have stepped up their campaign against jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, rounding up his associates and warning social media and news networks against spreading information about nationwide protest this weekend. At least five allies of the 44-year-old were detained on January 21, including top figures from his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). The police sweep comes as demonstrations are planned in dozens of cities on January 23 in support of Navalny following his detention last weekend upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he was being treated for a nearly fatal poisoning with a nerve agent since August.
RFE/RL, 21 January 2021: European lawmakers are expected to pass a resolution on January 21 calling on the European Union to halt construction on the nearly complete Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would carry Russian natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Members of the European Parliament are calling for expanded sanctions against Russia over the weekend arrest of opposition figure Aleksei Navalny upon his return to Moscow after being treated in Germany for poisoning with a nerve agent over the summer. Navalny was remanded in custody for 30 days on January 18 in a summary hearing held in a Moscow police station. The court claimed he violated probation requirements in a previous criminal case that is widely considered trumped up and politically motivated. Russia has rebuffed the global outrage and chorus of international calls calling for Navalny’s release. He faces up to 3 1/2 years in prison.
Caucasian Knot, 21 January 2021: In its investigation “Palace for Putin. Story of the Biggest Bribe”, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (known as the FBK) has not so much made a sensation, but rather systematized data from various sources on the construction of Putin’s “dacha” (summer residence) near Gelendjik, analysts assert. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that after Navalny’s arrest, the FBK has released an investigation about Putin’s palace near the city of Gelendjik, Krasnodar Territory, the largest private house in Russia, which is being built for money of state-owned companies. The total area of the palace is over 17,000 square meters; a land plot of 7000 hectares is adjacent thereto; this area could house 39 Monaco principalities; and the construction cost is about 100 billion Russian roubles, says Alexei Navalny. For a long time, the actions of Krasnodar ecologists were aimed at countering the seizure of forest lands along the perimeter of “Putin’s palace,” Evgeny Vitishko, an ecologist, told the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent. “I’ve watched the FBK’s investigation with pleasure. Our guesses have been confirmed that around, in Krinitsa itself, and along the Pshada River, some people close to Putin had been acting. But we never imagined that it was all a single whole, that it was all Putin,” Mr Vitishko has stated. Dmitry Shevchenko, the head of the NGO “Civil Initiative against Eco-Criminality”, believes that the uniqueness of the FBK’s film is not that there is something new there, since all the facts had already been voiced out earlier in various sources, but that this is the first attempt to systematize all this information and present it logically. Mikhail Benyash, an advocate, told the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent that he had lived in Gelendjik for 10 years; and all local residents knew that “Putin’s dacha” had been built in Praskoveevka. Mr Benyash believes that “the FBK inquiry will have consequences for the president,” because a world leader should think about the fate of his homeland, and not get drowned in luxury.” “I just imagine the amount of money spent on this all. The city of Gelendjik is nearby, without potable water, with its stinking sewage pipe draining out into the sea – for decades they cannot build a normal sewage system there. They say that such system costs three billion roubles, and do not know where to get it; but here, they are spending dozens of billions for the palace,” Mikhail Benyash has stated.
The Guardian, 22 January 2021: Russian authorities have detained five aides of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny and warned social media platforms against spreading online calls to stage weekend protests. Navalny’s allies are planning to hold demonstrations on Saturday in around 65 cities across the country in support of the Kremlin critic who was arrested and jailed on his return to Russia over the weekend. Navalny, 44, returned to Russia on Sunday from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning with the Novichok nerve agent in an attack he blamed on Russian security services and President Vladimir Putin. His arrest drew widespread condemnation, with the United States, the European Union, France and Canada all calling for his release.
The Moscow Times, 22 January 2021: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has said he does not plan to commit suicide and thanked his supporters in his first statement since being jailed in one of Moscow’s most notorious prisons upon his return to Russia. Navalny was sentenced to a month in jail this week after returning from Germany, where he had been recovering from what Western scientists determined to be poisoning with the Novichok nerve agent. He is being held in Matrosskaya Tishina, the site where lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009 after investigating large-scale fraud involving Russian tax officials.
RFE/RL, 22 January 2021: A court in Moscow has fined Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, for calling on the public to hold rallies to protest the Kremlin critic’s detention. The Simonov district court on January 22 found Sobol guilty of a “violation of the law on mass gatherings,” namely of calling for unsanctioned rallies. It ordered her to pay a fine of 250,000 rubles ($3,400). She was released after the hearing.
RAPSI, 22 January 2021: Moscow’s Savelovsky District Court on Friday placed Kira Yarmysh, the spokesperson of Alexey Navalny, for 9 days after she had called people for participation in an unauthorized rally, the court’s press service told RAPSI. The court found her guilty of organizing or holding a public event without receiving authorization from authorities. Yarmysh was arrested on Thursday.
RFE/RL, 22 January 2021: Lawyers of jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny say their client’s pretrial detention is illegal as several procedural regulations were violated while processing the case. Navalny’s website on January 22 made public an appeal filed by lawyers Olga Mikhailova and Vadim Kobzev a day earlier with the Moscow City Court against the 44-year-old opposition politician’s arrest. According to the lawyers, the decision was made by a team of illegally composed judges, there was no deliberations room in the makeshift court, and the defendant’s right to have lawyers present during proceedings and his right to privately discuss the case with them was ignored. They also said the judicial process was not held in accordance with the law.
The Moscow Times, 22 January 2021: Social media platforms are taking down Russians’ calls to protest in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny over the government’s claims that they illegally incite minors to attend unauthorized rallies. Navalny was detained and jailed for a month shortly after returning to Russia from Germany, where he had been hospitalized with what Western scientists determined to be nerve agent poisoning. After he called on his supporters to stage nationwide street protests on Saturday, videos and posts promoting the rallies quickly went viral, primarily on youth-friendly video app TikTok.
The Moscow Times, 22 January 2021: European Council chief Charles Michel demanded the “immediate release” of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny in a call with President Vladimir Putin on Friday. The EU had already condemned an attempt to assassinate Navalny and his arrest on his return to Russia after treatment, but Michel has now expressed “grave concerns” directly to Putin.
Meduza, 22 January 2021: Almost a week ago, Alexey Navalny flew home to Russia, surrounded by a phalanx of journalists. Large crowds of cheering supporters awaited him at the airport, but his most important welcome party was a group of police officers who promptly arrested him after his plane landed. Since Monday, January 18, Navalny’s home has been an isolation cell at Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison. Meanwhile, upcoming protests in support of Navalny, planned for tomorrow, January 23, have become one of the main trending topics on TikTok in Russia. Videos about Navalny have been viewed more than 200 million times, and Russia’s federal censor has ordered TikTok to remove “content calling for minors using the social network to participate in illegal mass protest events.” Meduza looks at how content creators are using the protests to gain followers, and whether TikTok can serve as an effective protest tool in Russia.