Hundreds of People Arrested and Detained At Pro-Navalny Nationwide Protests

Police detained over 200 protesters demanding the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Mobile phone and internet services in Russia outages have been reported

Police have detained around 238 supporters attending nationwide rallies in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Saturday, according to protest monitor OVD Info.

Around 90 protests are planned nationwide throughout the day, including in capital city Moscow. Demonstrators are meeting despite police warnings that the rallies are illegal and that they would be “immediately suppressed.”

Navalny was arrested on his return to Russia from Germany on January 17, following a near-fatal poisoning with a nerve agent. He was handed a 30-day jail term for violating the terms of a suspended sentence he was given in 2014 on fraud charges.

The 44-year-old says the charges are politically motivated. The US, the European Union, France and Canada have urged his release. The EU has also imposed sanctions. Police began arresting pro-Navalny supporters gathering in capital city Moscow

What is happening at the marches:

Protests kicked off in cities in Russia’s far east which is several time zones ahead of Moscow.

Navalny’s headquarters in Khabarovsk said on Twitter that several dozen protesters were rounded up by authorities in the city shortly after the demonstrations began. Video footage showed protesters braving freezing temperatures and chanting “Shame!” and “Bandits!” The protests in Khabarovsk are also focused on the arrest of the city’s popular former governor, Sergei Furgal.

In Vladivostok, video footage showed riot police chasing a group of protesters down the street.

DW Russia correspondent Emily Sherwin tweeted a video from the city, showing protesters chanting “let him go.” Others were braving  minus 50 degrees Celsius (-58 degrees Fahrenheit) in Siberian Yakutia to protest, Sherwin added. Meanwhile, hundreds of people were gathering Moscow ahead of a planned march from central Pushkin Square to the Kremlin. Reports from the AFP and Reuters news agencies said police had started detaining people at the scene.

A participant holds a poster reading ‘Strength is in the Truth’ during an unauthorized rally in Khabarovsk

Internet outages

In several Russian cities there were mobile phone and internet network outages, the monitoring site downdetector.ru showed. Twitter users in Russia also reported problems accessing the microblogging platform.

Communication problems were reported by users in the following cities: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tyumen, Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg, Voronezh, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don and Saratov, the Russian independent online magazine Spektr.Press reported. The authorities sometimes interfere with mobile communication networks to make it harder for protesters to communicate among themselves and share video footage online.

Russia cracks down on organizers, social media

Ahead of the protests, Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor accused platforms of hosting content encouraging and organizing the protests.

It threatened fines if they did not remove content encouraging minors to participate in the demonstrations. 

Protests kicked off first in Russia’s far east which is several time zones ahead of capital city Moscow

By Friday evening, the watchdog said TikTok had deleted 38% of the posts authorities deemed illegal, while YouTube had deleted 50% of posts flagged by Russian regulators.

Authorities also said they had launched a criminal investigation against Navalny’s supporters for urging minors to attend illegal rallies on social networks.

The Investigative Committee for the Novosibirsk Region in central southern Russia opened a criminal case on incitement to mass riots, Russian independent media outlet MediaZona reported on Friday.

They reportedly detained a 20-year-old resident for his role in organizing protests.

Navalny’s associates also urged Russians to take to the streets despite official pressure, promising financial help to protesters given fines. Watch video 01:51

Navalny releases ‘Putin’s palace’ video ahead of protest

In a push to galvanize support, Navalny’s team also released a video about an opulent palace on the Black Sea they alleged belonged to Russian President Vladimir Putin — something the Kremlin denied. The clip had been viewed more than 60 million times as of late Friday. Several people close to Navalny, including prominent activist Lyubov Sobol and his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, were detained late Thursday for calling on Russians to join the protests. Protesters ignored warnings from police that they should avoid the so-called “unauthorized actions” on Saturday

Source: Reuters, AFP, DW