Alexei Navalny detained again weeks before Russia vote
Opposition leader held briefly and accused of organising illegal protests against Putin
A supporter of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny puts up a flier promoting a boycott of the upcoming presidential election near the entrance to a block of flats in Moscow, Russia, earlier this month. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was briefly detained on Thursday and accused of organising illegal protests, weeks before a presidential election in which he has been barred from running.
The 41-year-old anti-corruption campaigner was repeatedly jailed last year for organising some of Russia’s biggest protests, targeting what he says are the luxury lifestyles of President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle.
Mr Navalny’s detention on Thursday came shortly after his campaign chief, Leonid Volkov, tweeted that he had been detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. Mr Volkov later tweeted that he had been sentenced by a court to 30 days in jail.
Mr Navalny said Mr Volkov had been planning to fly to the Russian regional republic of Bashkortostan to organise election-monitoring activities.
Mr Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said Mr Volkov had been found guilty of organising illegal protests, and that it was “obvious” he was being punished for Mr Navalny’s calls for a boycott of the March 18th election, which Mr Putin is expected to win easily.
“As a high turnout is the Kremlin’s main goal, the authorities are very sensitive about our efforts to reduce it,” she said, adding that Mr Navalny would keep up his calls.
Barred from running
Mr Navalny has been barred from running in the election over what his supporters say is a trumped-up suspended prison sentence. Instead, he hopes for a boycott to undermine Mr Putin’s legitimacy.
Mr Navalny tweeted that he had been detained by police on Thursday as he left a dental appointment. He was released just under an hour later, saying police had opened a case against him for organising illegal protests.
“They offered me a lift somewhere, but I declined and have gone to work. I don’t understand what happened and why it took seven people to detain me,” he said.
If found guilty, Mr Navalny could also be jailed for 30 days, which would keep him behind bars until after the election.
Mr Navalny has come under increasing pressure from authorities as he has sought to rally Russians against the election, which he says is a sham and a rigged contest.
Although Mr Putin looks certain to secure a fourth term against rivals of little standing, analysts say the Kremlin is keen to boost his legitimacy with a high turnout, and avoid the impression that voters have stayed at home in protest at falling living standards.
Mr Navalny was detained at an anti-election protest in Moscow in late January and had his website blocked earlier this month after refusing to remove material covered in a court injunction.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday but has previously said Mr Navalny does not represent any real threat to Mr Putin.
Ms Yarmysh said the head of Mr Navalny’s Anti-corruption Foundation had been sentenced to 10 days in jail on Tuesday for organising an unsanctioned protest in January. – Reuters