Arrest of Poisoned Dissident Alexei Navalny Prompts Protests in Russia

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is escorted out of a police station on January 18, 2021, in Khimki, outside Moscow, following the court ruling that ordered him jailed for 30 days. - Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Monday urged Russians to stage mass anti-government protests during a court hearing after his …
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images

Dozens of protesters demonstrated on Monday outside of a Moscow police station demanding the release of prominent Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, whom authorities arrested at a Moscow airport upon his return to the country and placed on trial for violating the terms of a suspended prison sentence.

Navalny arrived in Russia on Monday and was promptly arrested by Russian authorities at the airport. He had previously announced a return to his home country. The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) declared last week that Navalny would face arrest for violating the terms of his sentence by making known his permanent address to authorities.

The FSIN previously warned Navalny to repatriate earlier, demanding in December that he do so or face his prison sentence, the suspension of which expired on December 30.

Authorities reportedly established a “makeshift court” in the police station holding Navalny. The court agreed to allow prosecutors to hold Navalny in custody for nearly one month. Navalny defense attorney Vadim Kobzev told state media outlet Tass that “The Khimki Court ruled that Navalny is under arrest until February 15.”

Navalny’s supporters demonstrated outside of the station in what was reportedly weather of -4 degrees Fahrenheit, demanding his immediate release. The protesters reportedly engaged in solo picketing, an increasingly common form of protest designed to circumvent the tough penalties on mass demonstrations, the BBC reported. The outlet described the protesters as “mostly students, young professionals and NGO activists.”

In a video filmed inside the station and posted to social media, Navalny urged his supporters to take the streets. “Do not be silent. Resist. Take to the streets. No one but ourselves will protect us, and there are so many of us that if we want to achieve something, we will achieve it,” he said. In a second video, he labeled the proceedings inside the police station as a “mockery of justice.”

The Russian dissident’s return to the country came after spending several months in Germany recuperating from an alleged poisoning attempt involving the deadly nerve agent Novichok, infamous for its use in political assassinations, most notably the botched Kremlin hit on former intelligence operative Sergei Skripal.

The details around the alleged assassination attempt remain unclear. Navalny has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his death, which Putin has denied. In December, he stated that, had he told his agents to kill him, “they would have finished it.”

The Russian government has attacked Navalny through the legal system in the past. In 2018, the Russian Supreme Court affirmed a fraud conviction against him and his brother, Oleg, backing a 2014 court ruling that the pair laundered $500,000 from French cosmetics company Yves Rocher. The brothers received three-and-a-half-year prison sentences, but the more prominent Navalny received a suspension which expired December 30, 2020.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) weighed in on the case multiple times, making favorable rulings for Navalny, though the external body could not ease Navalny’s legal woes, with his prison sentence lingering as a pretense for his arrest.

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