Russian court rejects Alexei Navalny's appeal, allies detained

A Russian court on Thursday rejected opposition leader Alexei Navalny's appeal against his arrest, while authorities detained several of his allies and issued warnings to social media companies after tens of thousands swarmed the streets in over 100 Russian cities last weekend demanding his release.

Navalny says his jailing is 'demonstrative lawlessness intended to scare me and all others'

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears via a video link from Moscow's penal detention centre Number 1 on Thursday and is shown on screens set up at a hall of the Moscow Region Court. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

A Russian court on Thursday rejected opposition leader Alexei Navalny's appeal against his arrest, while authorities detained several of his allies and issued warnings to social media companies after tens of thousands swarmed the streets in over 100 Russian cities last weekend demanding his release.

Speaking to court via video link from jail, Navalny denounced criminal proceedings against him as part of the government's efforts to intimidate the opposition.

"You won't succeed in scaring tens of millions of people who have been robbed by that government," he said. "Yes, you have the power now to put me in handcuffs, but it's not going to last forever."

The 44-year-old Navalny, the most well-known critic of President Vladimir Putin's government, was arrested Jan. 17 upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusations.

Navalny was jailed for 30 days on a request by Russia's penitentiary service, which charged that he had violated probation terms from a suspended sentence on a 2014 money-laundering conviction, which he rejected as politically driven. He also faces accusations in two separate criminal probes.

Before the Moscow Region Court rejected his appeal, defence lawyers argued that while recovering in Germany from the poisoning, Navalny could not register with authorities as required by the terms of his probation. His lawyers also said Navalny's due process rights were repeatedly violated during his arrest.

Navalny described his jailing following an earlier hearing held at a police station as a mockery of justice.

"It was demonstrative lawlessness intended to scare me and all others," he told the Moscow court.

Searches, arrests

Navalny's supporters are organizing another round of rallies for Sunday. Police on Wednesday searched Navalny's apartment, a rented accommodation where Navalny's wife, Yulia, has been living, and residences and offices of several of his associates and supporters.

Police stand guard at the Anti-Corruption Foundation office in Moscow on Wednesday. Moscow police launched a series of raids on apartments and offices of Navalny's family and associates. (Pavel Golovkin/The Associated Press)

Also detained were Navalny's brother, Oleg; his top ally, Lyubov Sobol; Oleg Stepanov, head of Navalny's Moscow office; Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva from the Navalny-backed Alliance of Doctors; and Maria Alyokhina from the Pussy Riot punk collective. They were detained for 48 hours as part of a criminal probe into alleged violations of coronavirus regulations during Saturday's protests.

Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the searches and detentions were a legitimate part of police efforts to investigate the alleged violations during Saturday's rallies.

"Law enforcement agencies are doing their job," Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. "There were numerous violations of Russian laws, and law enforcement agencies are at work."

Demonstrations calling for Navalny's release took place in more than 100 Russian cities Saturday, in a strong show of rising anger toward the Kremlin. Nearly 4,000 people were reportedly detained at those protests and some were given fines and jail terms.

At Thursday's court hearing, Navalny thanked his supporters. "They are the last barrier preventing our country from sliding into the degradation," he said. 

In a later post on Instagram, he urged the Russians to abandon their fear and take to the streets to pressure Putin and his entourage.

"Come out and don't be afraid of anything," Navalny said. "No one wants to live in the country where lawlessness and corruption run amok. The majority is on our side, let's wake them up."

Moscow police said 267 people were convicted of violations during weekend demonstrations in the capital, and 110 of them were given short jail terms.

It issued a notice to the public not to join Sunday's protests, warning that officers would act resolutely to disperse unsanctioned rallies and bring participants to justice.

Warnings to social media

Also Thursday, Russian prosecutors issued warnings to Facebook, Google, Twitter, TikTok and Russian social networks demanding that they block calls for more protests.

"The state doesn't want the social networks to become a platform for promoting such illegal actions," Peskov said.

Asked if their refusal to remove such content could prompt Russian authorities to block them, Peskov responded it would be up to relevant government agencies to consider a response.

"All pros and cons will be weighed and, if necessary, measures envisaged by the law will be taken," he said.

On Sunday, a police officer dressed in civilian clothes holds down a journalist who was filming opposition activist Pavel Krysevich during his action in support of Navalny and against the mass arrests at Saturday's rally in Moscow. (George Markov/The Associated Press)

Earlier this week, Russia's state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor said it would fine Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube and two Russian social networks for their failure to block calls on minors to join Saturday's protests.

A spokesperson for Facebook said that "there are times when we push back on government requests to remove content which doesn't break our rules and is clear political speech."

"We took this step in Russia to allow for speech on last week's protests," the spokesperson added in a statement to The Associated Press.

Google and TikTok haven't responded to requests for comment about the Russian authorities' action. Twitter refused to comment to The Associated Press on Thursday.

Criminal probe opened

Russia's Investigative Committee said it opened a criminal probe against Navalny's top strategist Leonid Volkov, accusing him of encouraging minors to participate in unauthorized rallies. Volkov, who currently stays abroad, rejected the charges.

"The streets must speak now. There is nothing else left," Volkov tweeted after Navalny's appeal for his release was rejected, repeating the call for Russians to turn out in force Sunday.

In a challenge to Putin two days after Navalny's arrest, his organization released an extensive video report on a palatial seaside compound allegedly built for the president and equipped with fancy amenities, such as a mysterious "aqua-discotheque" that has drawn a stream of sarcastic jokes on the web. It has been viewed more than 99 million times, further stoking discontent.

"If just 2% of the audience will take to the streets, it will be enough to bring all visitors of the 'aqua-discotheque' to their senses," Navalny said on Instagram.

WATCH | Putin touts stability amid protests over Nalvany's arrest:

Putin touts stability amid protests over Nalvany’s arrest

8 months ago
Russian authorities are bracing for another round of protests amid outrage over the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Despite that, President Vladimir Putin made a rare appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, saying it was business as usual in Russia. 2:06

Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later.

Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to the Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.

Russian authorities have refused to open a full-fledged criminal inquiry, citing a lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned.

Navalny's arrest and the harsh police actions at the protests have brought wide criticism from the West and calls for his release.