Person of the Week: Aleksei Navalny, prisoner of conscience

Week-ending 29 January 2021

On 23 January 2021, thousands of people in Russia took part in protests over the detention of Aleksei Navalny, designated by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience and by Memorial Human Rights Centre as a political prisoner. More than 3,700 people were arrested for taking part in peaceful protests. More than 50 journalists were arbitrarily arrested. On 28 January a court rejected an appeal by Navalny against his being remanded in custody. Navalny called for people to protest against him imprisonment again on 31 January 2021.


Amnesty International, 23 January 2021: Responding to the mass arrests and detention of more than 1.300 protesters gathered today in Moscow and across Russia to rally against the politically motivated detention of prominent opposition activist Aleksei Navalny, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Russia Director said: “Russian authorities relentlessly unleash reprisals against peaceful protesters what we saw today has only confirmed this. The police ignored their duty to guarantee the right to peaceful assembly and instead indiscriminately beat and arbitrarily arrested protesters, many of whom were young people. Amnesty International monitors witnessed first-hand the viciousness of the police response in Moscow. Law enforcement officers acted roughly and unreasonably against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters, pushing people down the stairs and beating protesters with batons. At one occasion, a policeman hit a man on the head with a baton simply for asking “What are you doing?”

The Guardian, 23 January 2021: Thousands of supporters of Alexei Navalny have begun to protest in cities across Russia to call for the opposition leader’s release from jail. Demonstrators gathered in cities and towns in Siberia and the far east with rallies in Moscow and St Petersburg expected to begin at 2pm local time (1100 GMT). Police have made more than 167 arrests, according to the website OVD-Info, as the Kremlin attempts to break up the unsanctioned rallies by force. The protests are likely to be the country’s largest since 2017.

RFE/RL, 23 January 2021: Thousands of demonstrators were braving brutally cold weather and threats of police crackdowns across Russia on January 23 to call for the release of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, a Kremlin critic jailed last weekend upon returning to Moscow after medical treatment in Germany for Novichok poisoning. The first rallies began in Siberia and the Far East with large crowds taking to the streets in Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Novosibirsk and other cities despite the subfreezing temperatures and heavy security presence. Reports suggest the protests were likely to be Russia’s largest since March 2017 when coordinated anti-government demonstrations took place in 99 cities and towns across the country.

Caucasian Knot23 January 2021: Activists of the Stavropol Alexei Navalny’s office and local farmers are preparing solo pickets, despite the police’s warnings and detentions of Alexei’s supporters. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that in Southern Russia, activists claimed pressure from the law enforcement bodies in connection with the planned actions in support of Alexei Navalny.

The Guardian, 24 January 2021: The Kremlin has broken its silence on Russia’s biggest opposition protest in years, claiming the size of the demonstrations against Vladimir Putin were overstated and accusing the US of meddling in Russia’s internal affairs. A record 3,500 people were arrested as police tried to shut down unsanctioned rallies in 10 time zones across the country in support of Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who was jailed upon returning to Russia after being treated for a suspected federal security service poisoning. Clashes broke out in Moscow, St Petersburg, Vladivostok and other cities as some protesters threw snowballs and traded blows with riot police in body armour and helmets. Dozens of people were injured. The level of violence was unusual for protests in Russia, where heavily armoured police usually methodically kettle protesters without resorting to open fighting in the streets. Videos on Saturday showed police beating protesters with truncheons, and one showed an officer kicking a female protester in the stomach and knocking her to the ground. She was hospitalised in a critical condition. The officer has not been identified.

Human Rights Watch, 25 January 2021: On January 23, 2021, police detained more than 3,700 people across Russia at nationwide protests against the arrest of political opposition figure Alexey Navalny and against state corruption, Human Rights Watch said today. It was the largest number of people detained on a single day in the country according to OVD-Info, a Russian human rights group that monitors public assemblies. There were numerous reports of excessive use of force by police, including beatings, with much photographed or filmed by media outlets or private citizens and posted to social media. Although there were some incidents of protester violence, the vast majority of the protests were peaceful. An independent assemblies’ monitoring expert estimated that the January 23 protest in Moscow was the largest in seven years. Several media outlets estimated that over 100,000 people took to the streets in over 100 cities across Russia.

The Guardian, 25 January 2021: The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, will fly to Moscow to personally deliver the bloc’s condemnation of the “completely unacceptable” arrest of the opposition leader, Alexei Navalny. The heads of state and government of the 27 member states will then reassess the EU’s relationship with Russia at a summit in March. Borrell said there was no “concrete proposal” from the member states as yet as to the consequences of the continued detention of Navalny and 3,000 of his supporters but that the EU was “ready to react”. Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, is among those who have called for sanctions, including Italy, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. He had also asked for the EU official to cancel his planned visit to Moscow. But after a meeting of foreign ministers, the bloc’s high representative for foreign affairs said the trip in the first week of February to meet Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, would go ahead.

RFE/RL, 26 January 2021: Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) major industrial nations have condemned Russia for the “politically motivated” detention of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny and the “violent suppression” of protesters demanding his release over the weekend. In a joint statement on January 26, the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States called Navalny’s detention “deplorable” and demanded his “immediate and unconditional release.” “Russia is bound by its national and international obligations to respect and ensure human rights,” they said. Navalny was arrested on January 17 upon returning to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning by a military-grade nerve agent in August he accuses Putin of ordering. Navalny faces up to a 3 1/2 year sentence if convicted for violating a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement case that Europe’s top human rights court deemed illegal. Russian prosecutors appear to be claiming that the terms of the sentence were broken when Navalny was flown out of the country on an emergency air ambulance to be treated for the nerve-agent attack.

RSF, 26 January 2021: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for new European Union sanctions against Russian officials after more than 50 journalists were arbitrarily arrested – some briefly and some for several hours – during an unusually extensive and heavy-handed crackdown on media covering demonstrations in support of Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny in 17 Russian cities on 23 January.​ The extraordinary figure of more than 50 arrests of reporters, some of whom were subjected to police violence, is based on data compiled by the specialised news website OVD-Info, the Russian Journalists and Media Workers Union (JMWU) and information gathered directly by RSF. “The police deliberately targeted certain media, going so far as to try to enter a private apartment, to cut off a video feed of the demonstrations, and in a sign of the totally disproportionate nature of the crackdown, even clearly-identified reporters wearing ‘press’ vests or armbands were held for several hours,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

FIDH, 26 January 2021: FIDH strongly condemns the crackdown following protest marches attended by hundreds of thousands of Russians on 23 January. Mass arbitrary detentions of peaceful demonstrators, who were protesting the detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and the arrest of Navalny and his staff are incompatible with respect for fundamental civil and political rights. FIDH urges Russia to liberate all peaceful protesters detained in connection with the protests and Navalny himself, drop all charges, and allow its citizens to freely exercise their fundamental rights. FIDH urges the European Union (EU) to adopt individual targeted sanctions against public officials involved in the January 23 crackdown, Navalny’s arbitrary detention, and other human rights violations. Between 250,000 and 300,000 individuals participated in the 23 January protests. Despite preemptive arrests of organisers of the marches, intimidation of and threats to likely protest participants, including students, individuals from 125 cities all across the country joined the protests.

The Guardian, 27 January 2021: Supporters of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny have called for more rallies across the country this weekend to demand his release after he was put in pre-trial detention over parole violations he denies. One of Navalny’sleading allies, lawyer and politician Lyubov Sobol, told reporters on Tuesday that his anti-corruption movement would continue to operate despite many people being detained after protests swept through Russian cities at the weekend. As a wave of criminal cases were launched against those detained by police, a woman who was kicked to the ground by a baton-wielding policeman in St Petersburg has emerged as a symbol of the heavy-handed way the authorities cracked down on the protesters. The case of Margarita Yudina, 54, has become a national scandal after footage of her being kicked her in the stomach by a policeman for asking why the officer and his colleagues had detained went viral online.

The Guardian, 27 January 2021: Police have raided Alexei Navalny’s apartment and the headquarters of his Anti-Corruption Foundation in Moscow after investigators opened a new inquiry into alleged breaches of coronavirus restrictions during last week’s mass protests. According to several Russian media outlets, police also detained Navalny’s brother Oleg, who previously served a three-and-a-half year prison sentence in what the Kremlin critic had called a “hostage” situation. It is not yet clear why he would be detained. On Wednesday evening police banged at the door of Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, who yelled back that her lawyer was on the way. After breaking through the door, police searched the house and later detained Navalny’s brother, according to media outlets MBKh Media and RTVI. At the same time, a close Navalny ally, Lyubov Sobol, demanded that police identify themselves as they prised open the door to a studio that broadcasts Navalny Live. Investigators searched the offices of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, the team that put out a recent investigation into a £1bn palace allegedly built for Putin’s personal use. Police also raided the homes of Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s press secretary, and other aides.

The Guardian, 28 January 2021: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has denounced the criminal proceedings against him, telling a Russian court via a video link from jail that while it had the power now to “keep me in handcuffs … that situation is not going to continue for ever”. As a Moscow appeal hearing has rejected calls to release him from jail and investigators charged Navalny’s top aides in a series of inquiries meant to disrupt the protest movement that has arisen in his support, he told the court he believed the proceedings were part of a campaign to intimidate the opposition. “Right now you have the power,” he told a judge during the hearing. “You can put one guard on one side of me, one on the other and keep me in handcuffs. But that situation is not going to continue for ever.” “You won’t succeed in scaring tens of millions of people who have been robbed by that government,” he told the court.

RFE/RL, 28 January 2021: Two leading allies of Aleksei Navalny have been detained for 48 hours for alleged violations of sanitary and health regulations hours before a court is due to hear an appeal against the Kremlin critic’s own jailing. Oleg Navalny, the brother of the jailed Russian opposition politician, and Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), will be held for two days until a court decides on their pretrial restrictions, FBK Director Ivan Zhdanov and Navalny’s associate, Leonid Volkov, said late on January 27. A court will hear an appeal on January 28 on a ruling to detain Navalny for 30 days to allow for a different court to decide in early February on converting a suspended 3 1/2-year sentence into real jail time in relation to an embezzlement case that is widely considered trumped up and politically motivated. Sobol was detained after police searched her apartment.

Amnesty International, 28 January 2021: Reacting to the mounting reports of searches and arrests in Russia of prominent political and civil activists associated with imprisoned Aleksei Navalny, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, said: “The crackdown on dissent in Russia has become increasingly brutal – and desperate – even compared to vicious reprisals in recent years. The authorities appear shamelessly bent on violating human rights by silencing their critics. In the last few days, the authorities have detained a young mother, raided the home of a prominent journalist’s elderly parents, and opened criminal prosecutions on dubious grounds, such as the violation of sanitary regulations by demonstrators. This wave of reprisals is obviously aimed at repressing growing popular dissent in Russia. It is a cowardly attempt to prevent further planned peaceful protests against the prosecution of prisoner of conscience Aleksei Navalny, and the allegations of top-level corruption in Russia which he unearthed. The persecution of peaceful protesters must stop immediately, and Russian citizens must be able to exercise their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, on 31 January or whenever they choose – these are fundamental rights.”

RFE:RL, 29 January 2021: Jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has called on his supporters to come out in droves for a second weekend of nationwide demonstrations as authorities crack down on the Kremlin critic’s associates and warn protesters against taking to the streets. In a letter posted on his website on January 28 after a court rejected an appeal against his arrest, Navalny called on Russians to cast aside fear and stage fresh protests. “Come on out, don’t be afraid of anything. Nobody wants to live in a country where tyranny and corruption reign. The majority is on our side,” Navalny said. Navalny and his associates are planning nationwide protests on January 31, following demonstrations in dozens of cities last weekend that brought out hundreds of thousands of people despite a brutal police crackdown. Police detained almost 4,000 people in the demonstrations. Late on January 28, a court in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, added a 10-day jail term to the incarcerated leader of Navalny’s team in the city, Irina Fatyanova.

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