Russians nationwide are staging a second round of protests calling for jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s release despite a growing crackdown and threats of prosecution by the authorities.
Navalny’s allies called for new protests to demand his release after tens of thousands took to the streets nationwide at last Saturday’s protests, resulting in a single-day record of over 4,000 detentions. The Kremlin critic faces up to 3.5 years in jail in a trial that starts this week on charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence while recovering from Novichok poisoning in Germany.
The days ahead of Sunday’s protests were marked by an intensifying crackdown against Navalny’s allies and family members, with his brother Oleg and lawyer Lyubov Sobol placed under pre-trial house arrest on charges of violating coronavirus restrictions by calling people to join protests. Authorities also issued an arrest warrant in absentia for Leonid Volkov, a top Navalny aide based in Lithuania, as part of a criminal case on inciting minors to attend unauthorized protests.
On Saturday, Sergei Smirnov, editor-in-chief of the independent Mediazona news website, was detained for several hours and Navalny’s jailed regional coordinator in Nizhny Novgorod urged people not to protest in a video his lawyer says was obtained under duress.
Meanwhile, Moscow police have closed seven metro stations and limited pedestrian movement in the city center, an unprecedented move. The Moscow rally was due to take place outside the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s main security agency, which Navalny says carried out the near-fatal poisoning attack on the orders of President Vladimir Putin, before a last-minute change.
So far, 650 people have been detained in more than 40 cities, according to the independent OVD-Info police monitor.
Here’s a live look at today’s events as they happen:
12:34 p.m.: Entrances and exits to the Krasnye Vorota and Sukharevskaya metro stations in Moscow have been closed, the MBKh Media news website reports.
12:28 p.m.: Police start detaining Moscow protesters attempting to hide in a nearby cathedral, the RBC news website reports.
12:27 p.m.: Hundreds of protesters have gathered on Pionerskaya Square in St. Petersburg.
12:00 p.m.: Moscow police have arrived at the new protest site at the Krasnye Vorota and Sukharevskaya metro stations and have begun detaining people, including one journalist. Passing cars honk their horns in support of the protesters.
11:47 a.m.: Protesters in Yekaterinburg are crossing the frozen Iset River in a move to escape riot police, according to The Moscow Times’ correspondent.
11:44 a.m.: Video shows a violent police crackdown on protesters in the city of Kazan.
11:34 a.m.: Video from Ufa in the republic of Bashkortostan shows protesters chanting “Akvadiskoteka!” in reference to a meme about the aqua-disco inside the $1.3 billion palace Navalny linked to Putin in a viral investigation this month. Meanwhile, a video of Ufa police dragging and detaining an elderly woman spreads widely on social media.
11:28 a.m.: The Moscow protest site has been moved from Lubyanka square to the Krasnye Vorota and Sukharevskaya metro stations while the St. Petersburg protest site has been moved from Nevsky Prospekt to Pionerskaya square, protest organizers announced.
11:22 a.m.: Moscow police have closed off Lubyanka square, the site of the FSB headquarters and the planned location of today’s protest, and are only letting journalists onto the square.
11:09 a.m.: Police in Russia’s second city St. Petersburg have reportedly closed off much of the city center, photos show, and are requiring passports to enter Nevsky Prospekt. Earlier this morning, several St. Petersburg-based activists said police searched their apartments.
10:49 a.m.: A large crowd has gathered in Russia’s fourth-largest city of Yekaterinburg, according to The Moscow Times’ correspondent. The Znak.com news website places the crowd size at 7,000 people.
9:47 a.m.: Local media in Novosibirsk estimate that 5,000 people attended Sunday’s rally, a larger number than at the protest last weekend.
9:42 a.m.: A photo from the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk shows riot police far outnumbering protesters.
9:39 a.m.: Activists in the Siberian city of Irkutsk report that internet access has been shut off in the city for the first time in a move to prevent them from broadcasting the protest online.
8:27 a.m.: In Russia’s Far East capital of Vladivostok, protesters rally on the ice of the Amur Bay after police blocked off their original meeting point. Video shows protesters chanting “My Russia is in prison!”
6:50 a.m.: Residents of the city of Yakutsk in northern Siberia hold a small rally despite temperatures of minus 43 degrees Celsius, video footage showed.
This story is being updated.
AFP contributed reporting.