Nearly 1,500 reported arrested at Navalny rallies in Russia

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in the dock
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny during a court hearing in Moscow in February.
(Babuskinsky District Court Press Service)

Police arrested nearly 1,500 people Wednesday during a day of demonstrations throughout Russia calling for freedom for imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose health reportedly is in severe decline after three weeks of a hunger strike, according to a group that monitors political detentions.

The largest of the protests took place in Moscow, where thousands marched through the center city. Some of the people arrested were seized before the protests began, including top Navalny associates in Moscow.

Navalny’s team called for the unsanctioned demonstrations after weekend reports that his health is deteriorating and his life was in danger.


“The situation with Alexei is indeed critical, and so we moved up the day of the mass protests,” said Vladimir Ashurkov, a close Navalny ally and executive director of the Foundation for Fighting Corruption. “Alexei’s health has sharply deteriorated, and he is in a rather critical condition. Doctors are saying that judging by his test [results], he should be admitted into intensive care.”

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It was unclear if the demonstrations matched the size and intensity of nationwide protests that broke out in January after Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent, was arrested. Turnout estimates varied widely: Moscow police said 6,000 people demonstrated in the capital, while an observer told Navalny’s YouTube channel that the crowd was about 60,000.

The OVD-Info group, which monitors political arrests and provides legal advice, said at least 1,496 people were arrested in 82 cities — the largest tally being nearly 600 in St. Petersburg.

Navalny’s team called the nationwide protests for the same day that Putin gave his annual state of the nation address. In his speech, he denounced foreign governments’ alleged attempts to impose their will on Russia. Putin, who never publicly uses Navalny’s name, did not specify to whom the denunciation referred, but Western governments have been harshly critical of Navalny’s treatment and have called for his release.

In Moscow, Navalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh and Lyubov Sobol, one of his most prominent associates, were detained by police in the morning.

OVD-Info reported that police searched the offices of Navalny’s organization in Yekaterinburg and detained a Navalny-affiliated journalist in Khabarovsk.


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The 44-year-old Navalny was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin. Russian officials have rejected the accusation.

Soon after, a court found that Navalny’s long stay in Germany violated the terms of a suspended sentence he was handed for a 2014 embezzlement conviction and ordered him to serve 2 ½ years in prison.

Navalny began the hunger strike to protest prison officials’ refusal to let his doctors visit when he began experiencing severe back pain and a loss of feeling in his legs. The penitentiary service has said Navalny was getting all the medical help he needed.

On Sunday, he was transferred to a hospital in another prison and given a glucose drip. Prison officials rebuffed attempts by his doctors to visit him there.