Russia Arrests Relatives, Allies of Dissident Navalny for ‘Coronavirus Violations’ at Protests

A still image taken from an AFPTV footage shows opposition leader Alexei Navalny attending a rally calling for a boycott of March 18 presidential elections, Moscow, January 28, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Alexandra Dalsbaek (Photo credit should read ALEXANDRA DALSBAEK/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEXANDRA DALSBAEK/AFP/Getty Images

Russian authorities have detained various family members and allies of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on charges of violating coronavirus restrictions through their participation in mass protests calling for his release from jail, the head of Navalny’s anti-corruption group Ivan Zhdanov said Thursday.

“Navalny’s brother Oleg and Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) lawyer Lyubov Sobol, as well as Navalny’s ophthalmologist and head of the independent Doctors’ Alliance union Anastasia Vasilyeva, have been detained for 48 hours,” Zhdanov revealed on Twitter according to the Moscow Times.

Police conducted raids and detentions across 30 Moscow locations this week as part of a crackdown on participants of pro-Navalny protests in Moscow and across Russia on January 23. Police have detained nearly 4,000 people nationwide for their participation in the mass gatherings. Ahead of the planned protests, Russian authorities warned citizens that the rallies were unauthorized by state authorities and thus participants risked official consequences, such as detention and fines, should they participate.

Navalny supporters are planning a second round of unauthorized protests on January 31, expecting to use Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters in Moscow as a key protest site.

A woman from Russia’s northern Arkhangelsk region claimed this week she was questioned by local police after she staged an anti-government protest with snowmen in her front yard on January 23. Unable to attend mass rallies demanding Navalny’s release from jail on January 23, Yelena Kalinina told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that she decided to create her own protest scene in front of her home in the Arkhangelsk village of Zachachye.

“She made four snowmen to which she stuck pieces of cardboard with slogans reading ‘Down With The Tsar!’ and ‘This Is Our Country!’” according to the U.S.-funded broadcaster.

“A mass picket in Zachachye,” Kalinina wrote on social media, attaching images of her snowman rally that soon garnered several comments and “likes.”

“Police came to Kalinina’s home early the following day [January 24]. They removed the cardboard signs and whisked her off to a nearby village for questioning,” RFE/RL revealed.

“They told me this was a decision from above, from [the regional capital] Arkhangelsk,” she told RFE/RL’s Russian Service. Kalinina said she was later released without charge.

“People ask me: Do you support Navalny?” she wrote in a social media post on January 17. “I answer: I’m against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin!”

Putin’s most prominent critic, Alexei Navalny, was detained on January 17 upon returning to his native Russia from Germany. A court in Moscow ruled the next day that Navalny would remain in police custody until February 15 while officials prepare a new trial to determine whether he committed a parole violation by failing to report to Russian authorities in person while in Germany.

Navalny had been in Germany convalescing after falling seriously ill on a Russian domestic flight on August 20. The 44-year-old was airlifted from Russia to Germany for medical treatment on August 22, where he remained until this month. German doctors familiar with Navalny’s case say evidence suggests that he ingested the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. The dissident has since accused the Kremlin of ordering security agents to poison him in August. Putin and his government deny involvement in the incident.

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