Peaceful protestors call for release of Alexei Navalny amidst intimidation and police brutality

Mila Yarovaya, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Pro-democracy protests of unprecedented calibres swept through Russia on Saturday, January 23rd as people across the country braved sub-zero temperatures in a stunning display of solidarity. 

The demonstrations in response to the detainment of one of the regime’s most vocal critics, Alexei Navalny, upon his return to Russia following an assassination attempt. 

Alexei Navalny

Navalny, a lawyer and founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to exposing abuses of power within the administration, was poisoned in August via nerve agent “Novichok” in a plot now linked to the FSB, Russia’s internal intelligence agency. 

After a tense standoff between the medical staff at the hospital the oppositioner was first admitted to and authorities over the fate of his comatose body, he was transferred to the Charite hospital in Berlin to finish his recovery. 

Alexei Navalny was due to arrive in Russia on Sunday, January 17th at Vnukovo airport, but his flight was rerouted to Sheremetyevo; some of the individuals initially gathered at Vnukovo to greet Alexei were detained.  

Following his landing, Navalny was detained by authorities on charges of violating the terms of his suspended sentence for a 2014 conviction which authorities claim precludes a prolonged stay in a foreign country. Navalny continues to claim that the conviction was unsubstantiated and politically motivated. The arrestant was then rushed to a police station where a court hearing was quickly organized in order to determine his fate: an imprisonment of 30 days, pending another trial in February.   

After his detainment, Navalny’s team organized the nation-wide protest that was held on January 23rd, enlisting a cadre of celebrities and spokespeople to help rally support. And the people rallied, taking to the streets across all the 9 time zones. From the Eastern-most Sakhalin, to Khabarovsk returning to the streets after a summer of protests demanding the return of their elected governor, to the -50C Yakutsk, to the traditionally oppositionist Moscow and St. Petersburg, tens of thousands of peaceful protesters turned out in support of Navalny, calling for his immediate release.  

A demonstration was also held outside of the Russian consulate in Toronto the same day. Following a march in Moscow, a crowd gathered outside of Matrosskaya Tishina prison, where Navalny is being held, and was quickly driven away by baton-wielding police. Over 3000 individuals have since been detained across the country, one of whom is Navalny’s wife Yulia. Members of the Anti-Corruption Fund continue to be detained by police.  

These protests were the greatest Russia has seen in years. A follow up protest has been called for Saturday, January 30th to sustain the momentum of the movement. 

The United States Department of State has since condemned the violence perpetrated by Russian police against peaceful protestors and called for the release of “all those detained for exercising their universal rights and for the immediate and unconditional release of Alexei Navalny.” 

The Kremlin continues to claim that it was the protestors who provoked the police to violence and that the protests are unlawful and uncontrollable.

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