MOSCOW (AP) – Authorities in Russia have taken complex measures to curb protests against the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, planned by his supporters for Saturday in more than 60 Russian cities.
Navalny’s aides in Moscow and other regions were detained on the eve of the rallies. Opposition supporters and independent journalists have been approached by police with official warnings against protests.
Universities and colleges in various Russian regions have urged students not to attend rallies, with some saying they could be subject to disciplinary action, including expulsion.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that “quite naturally there are warnings … about the possible consequences of non-compliance with the law”
Navalny, an anti-corruption activist and the Kremlin’s fiercest critic, was arrested on Sunday when he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had spent nearly five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning, which the Kremlin blames. On Monday, a judge ordered Navalny to be imprisoned for 30 days.
He faces many years in prison – authorities accused him of violating the terms of a suspended sentence in a 2014 conviction for financial crimes, including during his recovery in Germany.
Navalny’s supporters called for nationwide demonstrations on Saturday to put pressure on the government to release politics, but they themselves are under pressure.
On Thursday night, Moscow police detained three senior Navalny aides. On Friday, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmish was ordered to spend nine days in prison, and Georgi Alburov was jailed for 10 days. Navalny’s close ally, Lyubov Sobol, was released on Thursday night, but on Friday the court sentenced him to pay a $ 3,300 fine. All three are accused of violating the rules of protest.
More than a dozen Navalny activists and allies have been detained in several Russian regions.
Russia’s prosecutor’s office and police have issued public warnings not to attend or to call for unauthorized rallies. Prosecutors also asked Roskomnadzor, a Russian media and Internet observer, to restrict access to websites calling for protests on Saturday.
On Friday, Russia’s largest social network, VKontakte, blocked all pages dedicated to the rallies.
Roskomnadzor also announced that it would fine social media companies for encouraging minors to take part in the protests. The move came amid media reports of calls for demonstrations – and videos of students replacing portraits of President Vladimir Putin in their classrooms with those of Navalny – which went viral among teenagers on the TikTok social network.
Russia’s education ministry has issued a statement urging parents to “protect” their children from Saturday’s events, saying “no one has the right to involve young people in various political actions and provocations.”
And the investigative committee opened a criminal investigation into “the involvement of minors in illegal activities”, accusing unidentified supporters of Navalny of encouraging minors to participate in social media rallies.
Also Friday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin urged Muscovites not to attend the rally, in a video statement shown by the Moskva24 TV channel. Sobyanin quoted fears of the coronavirus, called the upcoming demonstration “illegal” and said law enforcement would “ensure the necessary order in the city”.
Navalny’s allies are telling their supporters not to be discouraged and to show up on Saturday.
“Do not be afraid. Leave it to the Kremlin. We are on the right and we are the majority “, wrote Lyubov Sobol in a post on Facebook.
Dozens of influential Russians, including actors, musicians, journalists, writers, athletes and popular bloggers, have issued statements in support of Navalny, and some have vowed to attend the demonstrations.