Vladimir Putin critic Alexei Navalny held at Moscow rally

Navalny breaks house arrest after earlier receiving suspended sentence, as brother Oleg jailed

Policemen detain a supporter of opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny during a rally in the centre of Moscow on Tuesday evening. Photograph:  Yuri Kochetkov/EPA

Policemen detain a supporter of opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny during a rally in the centre of Moscow on Tuesday evening. Photograph: Yuri Kochetkov/EPA

 

The Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was arrested on Tuesday after breaking house arrest to join an opposition rally in Moscow, hours after a court gave him a suspended sentence for fraud. His brother, Oleg, was jailed for 3½ years for the same offence.

Police arrested Mr Navalny soon after he emerged from the metro. Officers detained him outside the Ritz Carlton hotel, in Tverskaya street, before he had a chance to join demonstrators trying to reach the heavily guarded Manezh square, directly in front of the Kremlin.

Thousands of protesters gathered in freezing conditions to protest against the verdict on Mr Navalny and his brother. They chanted anti-Putin slogans including: “No Putin, no war”, “Crimea is not ours”, “Putin is a thief” and “freedom”. More than 100 protesters were arrested, including a Wall Street Journal reporter, and loaded into waiting buses, to cries of “shame!”.

Some of those detained tweeted photos from inside police vans. Mr Navalny tweeted that officials had taken him to a police station and then taken him back to his flat. Five police guards stood outside his door to prevent him from leaving again.

In a case that critics say was politically motivated, the judge earlier handed Alexei Navalny – Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile opponent – a suspended 3½-year sentence. He had faced up to 10 years in jail. But in an unexpected move, the court jailed Oleg Navalny and sent him to a penal colony.

It was unclear whether Alexei Navalny now faces a similar term behind bars after deliberately breaking his bail conditions. He is under house arrest following an earlier conviction. Setting off to the demonstration, he tweeted from the metro: “Yes, there is this house arrest. But today I want to be with you. So I’m coming too.”

Mr Navalny’s supporters said the verdict showed the Kremlin was returning to the Soviet-era practice of punishing the relatives of those it disliked.

 

Stealing

Both men were found guilty of stealing 30 million roubles (about €428,000 under the current exchange rate) from the French cosmetics company Yves Rocher. Asked by the judge if the rulings against them were clear, Alexei replied: “Nothing is clear. Why are you imprisoning my brother? By this you punish me even harder.”

 

The sentencing had originally been scheduled for January 15th, but was abruptly brought forward to the day before New Year’s Eve, the main Russian holiday, in an apparent attempt to prevent large-scale anti-Putin demonstrations.

“Of all the possible types of sentence, this is the meanest,” said Alexei Navalny outside court after his brother was taken away. “The government isn’t just trying to jail its political opponents – we’re used to it, we’re aware that they’re doing it – but this time they’re destroying and torturing the families of the people who oppose them,” he said, calling for a protest.

Writing on his blog, Mr Navalny said his brother’s sentence would not stop him from political activity. He lambasted those at the top of Kremlin power as “thieves, scoundrels and traitors who must be destroyed”. He said ordinary Russians were guilty of allowing the political elite to plunder the country. “We let them through our passivity.”

Critics said the move was the latest attempt by the Kremlin to snuff out Navalny’s long-running campaign against Mr Putin. – (Guardian service)