MOSCOW — A Russian court has rejected opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s appeal against his arrest as authorities stepped up their campaign against the Kremlin critic with new detentions of his associates and warnings by police they will crack down on protesters expected to take to the streets this weekend in support of the 44-year-old lawyer.
Judge Musa Musayev said at a court hearing on January 28 that Navalny will remain behind bars until February 15, upholding a previous ruling ordering Navalny be incarcerated to allow a different court to decide in early February on converting a suspended 3 1/2 year sentence into real jail time in relation to an embezzlement case that is widely considered trumped up and politically motivated.
Navalny, who took part in the hearing via a video link, called his arrest a sign of the “lawlessness” that has become commonplace in Russia “with a goal to frighten me and everyone else.”
“They want to muzzle people like me,” Navalny said, adding that Russia’s current authorities “are not masters of our country and they will never be.”
“Yes, the power now is on your side, but that will not last forever,” Navalny said.
After the judge’s ruling, Navalny’s team announced that it planned to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
Navalny was arrested on January 17 upon returning to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning by a military-grade nerve agent in August 2020 he accuses President Vladimir Putin of ordering, a claim the Kremlin denies.
The day after his arrest, a makeshift court set up in a police station just outside of Moscow ruled the anti-corruption campaigner should be held until the other court makes its decision.
During the appeal hearing, Navalny’s defense argued that because of his rehabilitation in Germany, he was unable to register with authorities as required by probation terms during the period. His lawyers also contested his arrest, charging that due process was repeatedly violated.
The ECHR ruled in October 2017 that the case that put him on probation was “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”
“In connection with the peaceful processions on January 23, more than 20 criminal cases have been initiated under seven articles of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. In connection with the poisoning of Navalny with the prohibited military poison ‘Novichok’ five months ago, zero cases have been initiated,” Navalny aide Leonid Volkov said in a tweet after the court ruling.
Navalny’s arrest and the detention ruling sparked the largest mass nationwide protests in years on January 23 when tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets in his name. Police detained almost 4,000 people in the demonstrations.
Navalny’s team has called for another round of demonstrations on January 31, prompting Russian officials to step up their campaign to stop the dissent.
Moscow police warned on January 28 that “any attempts at holding the unsanctioned public event and any provocative steps on the part of its participants will be viewed as a threat to public peace and stopped immediately, while perpetrators will be held liable consistent with the law.”
A day before the appeal hearing, Navalny’s two leading allies were detained for 48 hours for alleged violations of sanitary and epidemiologic regulations.
Navalny’s brother, Oleg, and Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), were told on January 27 that they will be held in detention for two days until a court decides on their pretrial restrictions.
Sobol was detained after police searched her apartment. Her lawyer Vladimir Volkov tweeted that during questioning, police ran through a list of more than three dozen people — including activists and actors who openly supported Navalny after his arrest earlier in January — asking whether she knew them.
Sobol refused to answer the questions, saying it was her constitutional right, after which she was taken to a police station.
Oleg Navalny was detained after he refused to open the door for the police when they came to his brother’s apartment in Moscow on January 27. Police subsequently broke the door down and entered the residence.
Also, on January 27, a leading member of the Pussy Riot protest group, Maria Alyokhina, was detained for 48 hours on similar charges of allegedly violating coronavirus regulations during the mass rally in Moscow.
According to the FBK, at least 15 homes of Navalny’s associates and relatives were searched in Moscow on January 27, with police explaining the searches as a probe launched into “violation of sanitary and epidemiological regulations” stemming from mass rallies in Moscow last weekend.
On January 28, the Investigative Committee said it had launched a probe against Volkov, accusing him of calling on minors to take part in the rallies to support Navalny.
On January 27, Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, said social networks — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, VKontakte, Odnoklassniki, and YouTube — will face fines for failing to delete posts that encourage young people to take part in opposition protests.