Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to the media prior to a court session in Moscow, Russia. File/AP
Gulf Today Report
Supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny were set to confront Russian authorities on Saturday even as authorities vowed a crackdown on protesters, according to AFP.
The gatherings will be the first protests by Navalny's supporters since he returned dramatically to Moscow and was immediately arrested last weekend after recovering in Germany from a nerve agent poisoning in Russia.
Allies of Russia’s leading opposition figure — who was jailed upon returning to Moscow after a near-fatal poisoning with a nerve agent — said they would take to the streets despite police warnings that unsanctioned public events would be “immediately suppressed.”
Earlier, opposition leader Navalny has accused President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder, which the Kremlin denies.
In the days leading up to the rallies several key Navalny aides were taken into police custody for violating protest laws and handed short jail sentences to keep them away from the protests.
The West has told Moscow to let him go, sparking new tensions in already strained Russia ties as US President Joe Biden launches his administration.
In a post on Instagram, Navalny’s wife Yulia said she would join the protest in Moscow: “For myself, for him, for our children, for the values and the ideals that we share.”
Navalny’s aides urged Russians to join the demonstrations on Saturday, promising financial help with fines.
In Moscow, which usually mobilises the largest rallies, protesters plan to meet in the central Pushkin Square at 2:00pm (1100 GMT) and march towards the Kremlin.
The city’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the calls for rallies were “unacceptable” during a pandemic and warned police would take action to ensure public order.
Strong online presence
Navalny, 44, rose to prominence around a decade ago and has become the central figure of Russia’s opposition movement, leading large-scale street protests against corruption and electoral fraud.
He has a strong online presence and publishes investigations into the wealth of Russia’s political elites on his YouTube channel with five million subscribers.
Many Navalny allies this week posted to social media to voice their support and call for participation in the rallies on Saturday.
Thousands of videos appeared on the TikTok app popular among teenagers, which has become an emerging medium for Russians to voice their political views.
Russia’s media watchdog warned online platforms against encouraging minors to participate in the rallies or risk hefty fines.
The watchdog said Friday that media platforms, including TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, removed content at its request.
Russia’s most popular social network VKontakte blocked groups created to coordinate the protests in different cities.
The Russian Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said Friday it launched a criminal probe into the calls for unauthorised protests.
Arrested on arrival
Navalny returned to Russia last week after five months in Germany, where he was recovering from a poisoning attack that he says was ordered by President Vladimir Putin.
A hastily organised court jailed the anti-graft campaigner for 30 days while he awaits trial for violating a suspended sentence he was handed in 2014.
Navalny faces a series of legal challenges that could see him receive real jail time.
After his arrest his team released an investigation into a lavish Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin, a claim the Kremlin denied.
The two-hour video report has been viewed more than 64 million times since its release on Tuesday, becoming the Kremlin critic’s most-watched YouTube investigation.
Navalny’s arrest drew widespread Western condemnation, with the United States, the European Union, France and Canada all calling for his release.
"Putin is afraid of the truth, I have always said this. Fighting censorship, relaying the truth to the people of Russia always remained our priority," the 45-year-old opposition politician said in a post on Instagram after the sentencing.
Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, was jailed earlier this month for parole violations he said were trumped up. The West has condemned the case and is discussing possible sanctions on Russia.
Navalny and his lawyers have argued that while he recovering in Germany from the poisoning, he could not register with Russian authorities in person as required by the terms of his probation. Navalny also insisted that his due process rights were crudely violated during his arrest
A new trial against Russian opposition leader Navalny opened on Tuesday at the penal colony where he faces another lengthy prison term, a further step in a yearlong, multi-pronged crackdown on Russia's most ardent Kremlin critic, his allies and other dissenting voices.
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