Dozens of people were arrested Saturday in Russia on the sidelines of demonstrations organized across the country at the call of supporters of the opponent Alexeï Navalny to demand his release, despite multiple pressures from the authorities.
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From Moscow to Novosibirsk, the team of the famous anti-corruption activist, victim of suspected poisoning this summer, has published calls for a rally in 65 Russian cities.
The first demonstrations took place on Saturday in the Russian Far East and in Siberia, where several thousand people took to the streets, notably in Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Chita, in the face of large numbers of riot police deployed on the scene. , according to supporters of Mr. Navalny.
In Yakutsk, south of the Arctic Circle, protesters braved the extreme cold by demonstrating in -50 degrees Celsius.
Some 125 protesters had already been arrested in 20 Russian cities around 08:00 GMT, according to the NGO OVD-info, which specializes in monitoring arrests on the sidelines of demonstrations.
A video released by the NGO showed dozens of riot police running behind protesters in Vladivostok.
In Moscow, where opposition mobilization is usually strongest, protesters are scheduled to meet at 11:00 GMT in Pushkin Square, then march along a central street in the capital towards the Kremlin.
The Moscow police have already promised to “repress without delay” any unauthorized gathering.
The mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, denounced the “unacceptable” demonstrations in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Instagram, Mr. Navalny’s wife, Yulia, nevertheless announced her intention to demonstrate in Moscow.
Fear of mass arrests
As authorities have not authorized these gatherings, protesters across Russia face brutal arrests and prosecution.
Previous large opposition rallies in Moscow in the summer of 2019 led to thousands of arrests of peaceful demonstrators.
As in 2019, the Russian police arrested this week, ahead of the mobilizations, leading allies of Alexei Navalny, two of whom were sentenced to short prison terms on Friday.
In the region, several coordinators of his movement were arrested after calling for demonstrations on Saturday.
Placed in detention until at least February 15 and targeted by several legal proceedings, Alexeï Navalny, 44, was arrested last Sunday, upon his return from Germany, after five months of convalescence.
At the end of August, he fell seriously ill in Siberia and was hospitalized in emergency in Berlin, victim, according to him, of poisoning of the Russian secret services with a nerve agent.
Three European laboratories had also concluded with poisoning, which Moscow firmly denies, denouncing a plot.
Pressures on TikTok and YouTube
As soon as Mr. Navalny was arrested, condemned by the Western powers, his supporters called for demonstrations for his release.
Thousands of calls for protest were relayed this week on social networks, where the opponent enjoys high visibility, while he is largely ignored by mainstream Russian state media.
To limit these calls for demonstrations, the Russian telecommunications gendarme Roskomnadzor has threatened the platforms TikTok and Vkontakte (VK), the Russian equivalent of Facebook, with fines.
According to Roskomnadzor, these two social networks, but also YouTube, owned by Google, have since deleted some of the messages concerned.
While an investigation was opened for “inciting illegal acts against minors”, the Ministry of Education called on parents to “prevent” their children from joining protests.
Alexeï Navalny’s team tried to galvanize its troops by publishing Tuesday a resounding investigation into a sumptuous property which would benefit President Vladimir Putin.
Called “Putin’s Palace”, this luxurious residence on the shores of the Black Sea would have cost, according to the opponent, more than a billion euros and would have been financed by relatives of the president. Charges rejected by the Kremlin.