Kremlin Critic Alexei Navalny Arrested at Moscow Rally

Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny reacts as he arrives to attend a court hearing in Moscow, August 14, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

Russian authorities arrested famous Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny just hours after a court gave him a three and a half years suspended sentence on embezzlement charges. His brother, Oleg, received the same amount of time in prison. Navalny broke his house arrest to attend a massive rally in Manezh Square in Moscow.

The courts accused Navalny and his brother of stealing over $500,000 from two firms, “including an affiliate of the French cosmetics company Yves Rocher between 2008 to 2012.” Navalny publicly chastised the court for his brother’s sentence.

“Aren’t you ashamed of what you are doing?” he yelled after Judge Yelena Korobchenko handed down the sentences. “Why are you putting [my brother Oleg] in prison? To punish me even harder?”

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL) provided a live blog from the sentencing to the end of the demonstration, which includes key tweets and pictures. After the sentences were announced, Navalny spoke to the press outside of the courthouse. He said the Kremlin is holding his family hostage as a way to punish him. He told his supporters to demonstrate on the streets.

His campaign manager from Moscow mayor campaign set up an event on Facebook for the demonstration. He tweeted it to his followers and said they have “exactly nine hours to tell everyone about this: Friends, colleagues, relatives.”

RFERL posted tweets of areas around Manezh Square that police already barricaded. Over 18,000 people RSVPd to the protest on Facebook.

Navalny tweeted a picture of himself on the Moscow metro to join the protests. In February, another court sentenced him to house arrest from a 2009 charge of stealing from a state lumber company. But in his tweet, Navalny said he must be with the people to protest against the Kremlin.

The BBC reported over 2,000 protesters attended the rally in the bitter cold. Officers arrested over 200 people as they pushed the protesters into metro stations. Police arrested Navalny before he made it to the square and escorted him back to his Moscow apartment. His campaign manager denied he was arrested, but Navalny tweeted out that he was back in his apartment with five soldiers at his front door. He said he was happy to join the protest even if it was for only 15 minutes. A YouTube video shows officers arresting Navalny.

Navalny is one of the most outspoken critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Independent reported that Nalvany has taken to becoming “a small shareholder in major companies, including state-run energy businesses” and uses “his position to raise questions about their finances.” Nalvany rose to fame after he exposed a real estate deal between the governments of Hungary and Russia. Hungary sold an embassy building to a company offshore owned by Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg for $21 billion, who immediately sold it to Russia for $116 million. Nalvany released papers that showed evidence of collusion, a way to limit open competition. Hungarian detained officials involved in the deal, but Russia only started an investigation into the matter in 2013.

In 2010, Nalvany found documents that proved $4 billion “of state funds [were] stolen” during a “2007 audit of the East Siberia-Pacific pipeline.” Transneft is state-owned and the largest oil pipeline company in the world. It is no surprise CEO Nikolay Tokarev’s friendship with Putin dates back to the KGB since Putin is known for placing his old friends in charge of state-owned energy companies. His KGB friend Igor Sechin, who is currently under santions, is CEO of Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned gas company.

The Kremlin does have a history of persecuting those who do not toe the line. Putin told oligarchs in 2000 “they could keep their wealth but they were not to dabble in politics.” Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the richest man in Russia, wanted to expand his petroleum company, Yukos, internationally. He told Putin there was massive corruption within the Kremlin in February 2003. In October 2003, the Kremlin arrested him on charges of fraud and tax evasion. Putin grabbed Yukos from Khodorkovsky. State-owned petroleum company Rosneft snatched up the most lucrative parts of Yukos. This acquisition made Rosneft Russia’s largest petroleum company. Putin issued a pardon for Khodorkovsky in December 2013.