Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who organized a wave of nationwide protests against government corruption that rattled authorities, was jailed on Monday for 15 days for resisting police orders.
Earlier, the Moscow court also fined him 20,000 rubles (about $470 Cdn) for his role in organizing the protests, which officials say were illegal.
Navalny was detained Sunday as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across Russia in the biggest show of defiance since 2011-2012 anti-government protests.
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman on Monday chided opposition organizers for putting people's lives at risk in the unauthorized protests and defended the actions of Russia's helmeted riot police, which critics called heavy-handed.
- Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny arrested during protest
- CBC IN RUSSIA | Alexei Navalny, Russia's foremost opposition activist, risks jail again
Olga Mikhailova, Navalny's lawyer, told Reuters she had expected such a verdict and plans to appeal it.
Journalists and well-wishers on Monday packed the courtroom in central Moscow where Navalny was taken. He posted a selfie on Twitter from the courtroom, saying: "A time will come when we'll put them on trial too — and that time it will be fair."
The 40-year-old Navalny, Russia's most popular, charismatic opposition leader, has been twice convicted on fraud and embezzlement charges that he has dismissed as politically motivated. Navalny, who is currently serving a suspended sentence, has also recently announced his bid for the presidency in Russia's 2018 election.
"Even the slightest illusion of fair justice is absent here," Navalny told reporters Monday at the defendant's bench, complaining about the judge striking down one motion after another.
"Yesterday's events have shown that quite a large number of voters in Russia support the program of a candidate who stands for fighting corruption. These people demand political representation — and I strive to be their political representative."
Protests in areas where Putin is popular
The government dismissed the opposition as Westernized urban elite disconnected from the issues faced by the poor in Russia's far-flung regions, but Sunday's protests included demonstrations in the areas which typically produce a high vote for Putin, from Siberia's Chita to Dagestan's Makhachkala.
Russian police say that about 500 people were arrested, while human rights groups say 1,000 were taken into custody. On Monday, the European Union called on Russian authorities to release the demonstrators.
Separately, police arrested Navalny's associates who were at their office setting up and monitoring a webcast of the rally. Thirteen of them spent the night at a police station while authorities raided their office, reportedly removing all equipment. It wasn't immediately clear what charges they may be facing. The activists were taken to court late Monday afternoon.
Over the years, Navalny, a trained lawyer, evolved from a lone blogger to someone who leads a group of like-minded activists, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, whose full-time job is to investigate official corruption.
State TV ignored protests
Russian state television completely ignored the protests in their broadcasts on Sunday, and authorities didn't comment on it in any way.
Russian law allows officials to sanction or ban demonstrations, although Navalny and other opposition activists have often defied official bans.
Putin's spokesman chided protest organizers, saying they incited illegal acts.
"The Kremlin respects people's civic stance and their right to voice their position," Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "We can't express the same respect to those who consciously misled people and who consciously did it yesterday and provoked illegal actions."
Peskov defended police who were seen manhandling protesters, some of whom were underage, calling their response "highly professional and lawful."
Asked about the Kremlin's reaction to the wide geography of the protests, something that has not been seen at least since 2011, Peskov said, "The Kremlin is quite sober about the scale of yesterday's protests, and are not inclined to diminish them or push them out of proportion."
Putin "constantly talks to people" and is well-briefed on the sentiment in the country, Peskov insisted.
He also claimed that underage protesters in Moscow were promised cash if they were arrested. Pressed on the source of these claims, Peskov quoted "facts."