The Russian prosecutor’s office on February 1 said it supported a request from the country’s prison authority to convert Aleksei Navalny’s suspended sentence into a real jail term.
The Russian opposition politician is being held in pretrial detention for 30 days, accused of violating the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement in a case that he says was trumped up but could see him jailed for 3 1/2 years.
OVD-Info, a monitoring group, said that 5,135 people had been detained at rallies across Russia on January 31 in support of Navalny amid reports of police using batons and tasers to break up rallies in Moscow and elsewhere.
For the second-straight weekend, tens of thousands of citizens braved freezing weather and possible arrest to defend Navalny and voice their discontent with the government of President Vladimir Putin over a host of issues ranging from corruption to falling living standards.
The United States, the European Union, and human rights organizations condemned the violence by Russian police against their own citizens as well as the detention of reporters.
Amnesty International said police in Moscow are holding people in deportation facilities because they have “run out of space” in jails.
“Trying to lock up every critic in the country is a losing game. The Russian authorities should instead recognize how much the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression mean to a growing number of Russians, and allow people to express their opinions without fear of retaliation,” Amnesty said in a statement following the protest.
Like the previous weekend, the January 31 protests took place in more than 100 cities in what some are calling the largest series of anti-government rallies by geography since Putin took power at the end of 1999.
Overall, dozens of journalists were detained nationwide, with at least eight in St. Petersburg, according to the Center For Monitoring Violations Of The Rights Of Russian Journalists And Media.
In a tweet, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that he deplored the “widespread detentions and disproportionate use of force” against protesters and journalists in Russia and that the country “needs to comply with its international commitments.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meanwhile, said that the United States “condemns the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight. We renew our call for Russia to release those detained for exercising their human rights, including Aleksei Navalny.”
The 44-year-old anti-corruption crusader and Kremlin critic was detained on January 17 upon his return from Germany, where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he and supporters say was carried out by the FSB on the orders of Putin.
The Kremlin has dismissed extensive evidence that FSB agents poisoned Navalny and rejected calls for his release.
A day after his return to Russia, a makeshift court at a police station ordered Navalny to remain in jail for 30 days pending trial, set to start on February 2.
Prosecutors claim he broke the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence in an embezzlement case the European Court for Human Rights ruled was “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”
The February 2 court hearing will consider converting the suspended sentence into a 3 1/2 year prison term because of the alleged parole violation while Navalny was recovering in Germany.