RUSSIA: Unauthorised rallies in protest against the detention of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny have led to the detention of thousands of protestors across the nation.
Navalny has been on a hunger strike for weeks, people have been demanding proper medical care for his acute back pain and leg numbness. The protests spread across Petersburg, Vladivostok, a number of cities in Siberia, and the central city of Vladimir where Navalny is being held, however, Moscow saw the largest protest of 6,000 people. The police said that more than 14.000 people protested in 29 cities. But according to estimates from monitoring groups, the figures far exceed the official police record.
“This is one of the last gasps of a free Russia,” a demonstrator told Reuters news agency.
“This is a fight for the future,” Andrei Zamyatin, told AFP.
Some were apprehensive about the impact of the mass action, “I don’t think this protest can save Navalny,” Alexander Butuzov told AFP.
The protesters in solidarity defied stark warnings from the authorities and police. In Moscow, riot police formed barricades to contain the demonstrators’ route, urging the people to leave the protest area.
The heavy price of protesting is rising in Russia: you face a beating, lose your job, or face a prison sentence. Many of Navalny’s supporters who did make it out on Wednesday said they were afraid, but they were passionate: in Moscow, calling Vladimir Putin, they shouted for Navalny’s freedom.
On Monday, authorities said that Navalny’s condition was satisfactory as he was moved to the prison hospital. But Navalny’s doctors have warned that if not given urgent medical treatment, he would “die within the next few days.” Recent blood test results indicate he could suffer kidney failure and suffer a cardiac arrest at any moment.
On 31 March, he started a hunger strike in protest at not being able to see his own medical team. Western countries claim that last August Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent and survived only narrowly. Toxicologists concluded that the poison was Russian weapons-grade Novichok. The West blamed the Russian state for the attack, and Navalny accused President Vladimir Putin directly. The Kremlin disputed any such conclusion about Novichok and denied their involvement.
In February, Navalny was jailed for violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence for fraud. According to Navalny, the case is politically motivated. The European Court of Human Rights said the case against him was found of violations of justice.