Moscow (AFP) – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said he had been freed on Thursday, the same day the World Cup kicks off in the country, after serving a month-long sentence for organising an illegal protest.
“I’m with you again after a 30-day business trip. I’m so happy to be free,” he wrote on Twitter.
The 42-year-old was sentenced a month ago after calling for the demonstrations ahead of President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a fourth Kremlin term.
Navalny’s lawyer and supporters called the trial politically motivated and the opposition activist said his rights had been violated.
Navalny, who has been imprisoned several times for his political activities, noted in a tongue-in-cheek Instagram post how jail conditions had improved ahead of the World Cup.
“It’s clear that authorities are not ruling out having to arrest drunk England fans for bad behaviour, and they don’t want to add insult to injury,” he wrote.
“There’s been a European-style make-over in all the cells. The bars have been painted. Instead of a hole in the ground — forgive me these details — they’ve installed toilets.
“In the courtyard they’ve put up goal posts and given out real footballs.”
Navalny, who was barred from challenging Putin in March’s presidential election, had called on Russians to stage rallies across the country on May 5 under the slogan “Not our Tsar”.
Nearly 1,600 protesters were detained in 27 cities across Russia, according to OVD-Info, an independent monitor that tracks arrests.
Navalny himself was grabbed by police and carried away by his arms and legs shortly after appearing in Moscow’s packed Pushkin Square.
The European Union condemned “police brutality and mass arrests” following the demonstrations, which saw officers in several cities beat protesters with truncheons and drag them along the ground.
Navalny has faced a string of charges since he became the leading opposition figure campaigning against Putin’s rule at mass demonstrations in 2011 and 2012.
He was jailed three times last year for breaking rules on organising demonstrations and had to travel to Spain for surgery after one of several street attacks left him nearly blind in one eye.
Members of his team have also faced charges and young supporters have reported coming under pressure at school or university because of their involvement in his campaigns.