Over 5,000 arrested at pro-Navalny protests across Russia

1 / 2
Protesters gather near a monument of Russian playwright Alexander Griboyedov during a protest against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021. (AFP)
2 / 2
Protesters march in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in downtown Moscow on January 23, 2021. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 31 January 2021

Over 5,000 arrested at pro-Navalny protests across Russia

  • Navalny’s supporters in Moscow plan to rally near the Kremlin administration and the headquarters of the FSB
  • Police have said the protests have not been authorized and will be broken up, as they were last weekend

MOSCOW: Chanting slogans against President Vladimir Putin, tens of thousands took to the streets Sunday across Russia to demand the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, keeping up nationwide protests that have rattled the Kremlin. More than 5,000 people were detained by police, according to a monitoring group, and some were beaten.
The massive protests came despite efforts by Russian authorities to stem the tide of demonstrations after tens of thousands rallied across the country last weekend in the largest, most widespread show of discontent that Russia had seen in years. Despite threats of jail terms, warnings to social media groups and tight police cordons, the protests again engulfed cities across Russia's 11 time zones on Sunday.
Navalny's team quickly called another protest in Moscow for Tuesday, when he is set to face a court hearing that could send him to prison for years.
The 44-year-old Navalny, an anti-corruption investigator who is Putin's best-known critic, was arrested on Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusations. He was arrested for allegedly violating his parole conditions by not reporting for meetings with law enforcement when he was recuperating in Germany.
The United States urged Russia to release Navalny and criticized the crackdown on protests.
“The US condemns the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter.
The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected Blinken's call as “crude interference in Russia's internal affairs" and accused Washington of trying to destabilize the situation in the country by backing the protests.
On Sunday, police detained more than 5,000 people in cities nationwide, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests, surpassing some 4,000 detentions at the demonstrations across Russia on Jan. 23.
In Moscow, authorities introduced unprecedented security measures in the city center, closing subway stations near the Kremlin, cutting bus traffic and ordering restaurants and stores to stay closed.
Navalny’s team initially called for Sunday’s protest to be held on Moscow’s Lubyanka Square, home to the main headquarters of the Federal Security Service, which Navalny contends was responsible for his poisoning. Facing police cordons around the square, the protest shifted to other central squares and streets.
Police were randomly picking up people and putting them into police buses, but thousands of protesters marched across the city center for hours, chanting “Putin, resign!” and “Putin, thief!" — a reference to an opulent Black Sea estate reportedly built for the Russian leader that was featured in a widely popular video released by Navalny’s team.
“I’m not afraid, because we are the majority," said protester Leonid Martynov. “We mustn't be scared by clubs because the truth is on our side."
At one point, crowds of demonstrators walked toward the Matrosskaya Tishina prison where Navalny is being held. They were met by phalanxes of riot police who pushed the march back and chased protesters through courtyards.
Demonstrators continued to march around the Russian capital, zigzagging around police cordons. Officers broke them into smaller groups and detained scores, beating some with clubs and occasionally using tasers.
Over 1,600 people were detained in Moscow, including Navalny's wife, Yulia, who was released after several hours pending a court hearing Monday on charges of taking part in an unsanctioned protest. “If we keep silent, they will come after any of us tomorrow,” she said on Instagram before turning out to protest.
Amnesty International said that authorities in Moscow have arrested so many people that the city's detention facilities have run out of space. “The Kremlin is waging a war on the human rights of people in Russia, stifling protesters’ calls for freedom and change,” Natalia Zviagina, the group’s Moscow office head, said in a statement.
Several thousand people marched across Russia's second-largest city of St. Petersburg, chanting “Down with the czar!” and occasional scuffles erupted as some demonstrators pushed back police who tried to make detentions. Over 1,100 were arrested.
Some of the biggest rallies were held in Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk in eastern Siberia and Yekaterinburg in the Urals.
“I do not want my grandchildren to live in such a country," said 55-year-old Vyacheslav Vorobyov, who turned out for a rally in Yekaterinburg. "I want them to live in a free country.”
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, who currently chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, condemned “the excessive use of force by authorities and mass detention of peaceful protesters and journalists” and urged Russia “to release all those unjustly detained, including Navalny.”
As part of a multipronged effort by authorities to block the protests, courts have jailed Navalny's associates and activists across the country over the past week. His brother Oleg, top aide Lyubov Sobol and three other people were put under a two-month house arrest Friday on charges of allegedly violating coronavirus restrictions during last weekend’s protests.
Prosecutors also demanded that social media platforms block calls to join the protests.
The Interior Ministry issued stern warnings to the public, saying protesters could be charged with taking part in mass riots, which carries a prison sentence of up to eight years.
Protests were fueled by a two-hour YouTube video released by Navalny's team after his arrest about the Black Sea residence purportedly built for Putin. The video has been viewed over 100 million times, inspiring a stream of sarcastic jokes on the internet amid an economic downturn.
Russia has seen extensive corruption during Putin’s time in office while poverty has remained widespread.
“All of us feel pinched financially, so people who take to the streets today feel angry,” said Vladimir Perminov who protested in Moscow. “The government's rotation is necessary.”
Demonstrators in Moscow chanted “Aqua discotheque!” — a reference to one of the fancy amenities at the residence that also features a casino and a hookah lounge equipped for watching pole dances.
Putin says neither he nor any of his close relatives own the property. On Saturday, construction magnate Arkady Rotenberg, a longtime Putin confidant and his occasional judo sparring partner, claimed that he himself owned the property.
Navalny fell into a coma on Aug. 20 while on a flight from Siberia to Moscow and the pilot diverted the plane so he could be treated in the city of Omsk. He was transferred to a Berlin hospital two days later. Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to the Novichok nerve agent.
Russian authorities have refused to open a full-fledged criminal inquiry, claiming lack of evidence that he was poisoned.
Navalny was arrested immediately upon his return to Russia earlier this month and jailed for 30 days on the request of Russia’s prison service, which alleged he had violated the probation of his suspended sentence from a 2014 money-laundering conviction that he has rejected as political revenge.
On Thursday, a Moscow court rejected Navalny's appeal to be released, and the hearing Tuesday could turn his 3 1/2-year suspended sentence into one he must serve in prison.


Norway police ban Qur'an burning protest after Turkiye summons Oslo envoy

Updated 9 sec ago

Norway police ban Qur'an burning protest after Turkiye summons Oslo envoy

ANKARA/OSLO: Norwegian police on Thursday banned a planned anti-Islam protest including the burning of a copy of the Qur'an this week for security reasons, hours after the Turkish foreign ministry summoned Norway’s ambassador to complain.
A group of protesters planned to burn a copy of the Qur'an outside the Turkish embassy in Oslo on Friday, police said, echoing similar demonstrations last month in Sweden and Denmark.
“Burning the Qur'an remains a legal way to express political views in Norway. But this event cannot be carried out for security reasons,” Oslo police said in a statement, citing intelligence it had received.
Earlier on Thursday, Ankara strongly condemned the anti-Islam group’s plans, which it said were a “provocative act,” a source from the Turkish foreign ministry said, adding that the ministry had asked for the demonstration to be called off.
Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Turkiye had raised the planned demonstration in a meeting.
“Our ambassador referred to the constitutional right to freedom of expression in Norway, and added that the Norwegian government neither supports nor is involved with the planned demonstration,” said a ministry spokesperson.
The police can only ban a demonstration if there is a danger to the public.
A protest including the burning a copy of Qur'an last month near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm by an anti-immigrant Danish-Swedish politician from the far-right fringe drew strong condemnation from Ankara.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine, but faced unexpected objections from Turkiye and have since sought to win its support.
Sweden said on Thursday it would tighten laws covering membership of terrorist organizations.

Afghan women prosecutors once seen as symbols of democracy find asylum in Spain

Updated 02 February 2023

Afghan women prosecutors once seen as symbols of democracy find asylum in Spain

  • Women's freedoms in Afghanistan were abruptly curtailed in 2021 with the arrival of a government that enforces a strict interpretation of Islam
  • 32 women judges and prosecutors left Afghanistan only to be stuck in Pakistan for up to a year trying to find asylum in Europe

MADRID: Pushing her son on a swing at a playground on a sunny winter's day in Madrid, former Afghan prosecutor Obaida Sharar expresses relief that she found asylum in Spain after fleeing Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban took over.
Sharar, who arrived in Madrid with her family, is one of 19 female prosecutors to have found asylum in the country after being left in limbo in Pakistan without official refugee status for up to a year after the Taliban's return to power. She feels selfish being happy while her fellow women suffer, she said. "Most Afghan women and girls that remain in Afghanistan don't have the right to study, to have a social life or even go to a beauty salon," Sharar said. "I cannot be happy."
Women's freedoms in her home country were abruptly curtailed in 2021 with the arrival of a government that enforces a strict interpretation of Islam.
The Taliban administration has banned most female aid workers and last year stopped women and girls from attending high school and university.
Sharar's work and that of her female peers while they lived in Afghanistan was dangerous. Female judges and prosecutors were threatened and became the target of revenge attacks as they undertook work overseeing the trial and conviction of men accused of gender crimes, including rape and murder.
She was part of a group of 32 women judges and prosecutors that left Afghanistan only to be stuck in Pakistan for up to a year trying to find asylum.
A prosecutor, who gave only her initials as S.M. due to fears over her safety and who specialised in gender violence and violence against children said, "I was the only female prosecutor in the province... I received threats from Taliban members and the criminals who I had sent to prison."
Now she and her family are also in Spain.
Many of the women have said they felt abandoned by Western governments and international organizations.
Ignacio Rodriguez, a Spanish lawyer and president of Bilbao-based 14 Lawyers, a non-governmental organisation which defends prosecuted lawyers, said the women had been held up as symbols of democratic success only to be discarded.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was not in a position to comment on specific cases.
"The Government of Pakistan has not agreed to recognise newly arriving Afghans as refugees," UNHCR said in a statement. "Since 2021, UNHCR has been in discussions with the government on measures and mechanisms to support vulnerable Afghans. Regrettably, no progress has been made."
The foreign ministry of Pakistan did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Pakistan is home to millions of refugees from Afghanistan who fled after the Soviet Union's invasion in 1979 and during the subsequent civil war. Most of them are yet to return despite Pakistan's push to repatriate them under different programmes.
The Taliban has said any Afghan who fled the country since it took power in 2021 can return safely through a repatriation council.
"Afghanistan is the joint home of all Afghans," said Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesperson for the Taliban administration. "They can live here without any threat."


EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary

Updated 02 February 2023

EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary

  • An existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow around 160 million euros every day
KYIV: The European Union plans to slap Russia with fresh sanctions by the anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on a visit to Kyiv Thursday.
“We will introduce with our G7 partners an additional price cap on Russian petroleum products, and by the 24th of February — exactly one year since the invasion started — we aim to have the 10th package of sanctions in place,” von der Leyen said during a press conference with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Existing sanctions are “eroding” Russia’s economy, she said, and “throwing it back by a generation,” estimating that an existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow around 160 million euros every day.

Russia’s Lavrov says United States involved in Nord Stream explosions

Updated 02 February 2023

Russia’s Lavrov says United States involved in Nord Stream explosions

  • Russia vows to push Ukrainian army back in response to longer-range rockets

MOSCOW: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday said the United States was directly involved in explosions that severely damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea last year.
Lavrov provided no evidence for his claim. President Vladimir Putin has previously accused Britain of blowing up the pipelines, which London denied.
In an interview on state TV, Lavrov also said the West was lying about Russia’s refusal to negotiate over Ukraine and was trying to turn Moldova, Georgia and former Soviet states in Central Asia against Moscow.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russian forces would respond to the delivery of longer-range Western weapons to Kyiv by trying to push Ukrainian forces further away from its borders to create a safe buffer zone.
In the interview on state TV, Lavrov said everybody wanted the conflict in Ukraine — which Moscow calls a “special military operation” — to end, but that the West’s support for Kyiv was playing an important role in how Russia approached the campaign.
Two US officials told Reuters on Tuesday that Washington was preparing a new package of military aid worth $2.2 billion which is expected to include longer-range rockets for the first time.
.”..We’re now seeking to push back Ukrainian army artillery to a distance that will not pose a threat to our territories,” said Lavrov.
.”..The greater the range of the weapons supplied to the Kyiv regime the more we will have to push them back from territories which are part of our country.”
Longer-range rockets would allow Ukraine — which has said it plans to retake all of its territory by force, including annexed Crimea — to strike deeper into Russian-held territory.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that such rockets would escalate the conflict but not change its course.
President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of Russian troops into Ukraine in February last year. He has said the operation was needed to protect Russia’s own security and to stand up to what he has described as Western efforts to contain and weaken Moscow.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of waging an illegal war designed to expand its territory.


EU chief arrives in Kyiv, says bloc ‘stands by Ukraine’

Updated 02 February 2023

EU chief arrives in Kyiv, says bloc ‘stands by Ukraine’

  • EU countries have staunchly backed Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February
  • In June last year, Ukraine was granted EU candidate status

KYIV: European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said she had arrived in Kyiv with a team of commissioners on Thursday, a day before a Ukraine-European Union summit in the war-torn country.
“Good to be back in Kyiv, my 4th time since Russia’s invasion.... We are here together to show that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever. And to deepen further our support and cooperation,” she wrote in a tweet.
She is accompanied by 15 commissioners, including the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
The Commission described the visit as a “strong symbol” of European support for Ukraine “in the face of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified aggression.”
EU countries have staunchly backed Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February, by hitting Russia with waves of economic sanctions and by sending weapons to Kyiv.
In June last year, Ukraine was granted EU candidate status.