MOSCOW -- Before being taken away to begin serving his five-year prison sentence
, Aleksei Navalny called on his supporters to rally in protest.
Shortly before the sentencing, in a court in Kirov on July 18, the anticorruption blogger and opposition leader tweeted a picture
of President Vladimir Putin, brooding and ashen-faced, with the caption "God have mercy upon you."
And immediately after learning that he had received a stiff five-year sentence, Navalny tweeted
: "It's okay. Try not to miss me. And most importantly, don't be lazy. The toad won't get off the oil pipeline by itself."
Within hours, supporters in at least 25 Russian cities indicated on social networks that they were gearing up for evening demonstrations against what they see as the politically charged jailing of Navalny, who just a day earlier was registered as a candidate
for Moscow's September 8 mayoral election.
Ilya Varlamov, a popular blogger and photographer, has posted a map online
indicating the cities across Russia where protests are planned
Derailing The Opposition
But the Russian authorities are not going to make it easy for the protesters.
Several demonstrators were detained at an impromptu demonstration at the detention facility in Kirov where Navalny was reportedly being held. There were also conflicting reports about where the opposition leader would be detained, an apparent attempt to confuse protesters.
In Moscow, meanwhile, nearly 10,000 people have indicated on a special Facebook page that they intend to gather in the evening on the capital's central Manezh Square to "discuss" the verdict.
They might, however, have trouble entering the square, which is located near the Kremlin. In the morning, before the verdict was announced, Moscow City Hall announced that it would be closed for "planned work" to replace the square's paving stones.
A spokesman for the Moscow mayor's office told ITAR-TASS
that "unsanctioned events will be stopped" and their organizers "held accountable."
The authorities have also closed down the opposition's spiritual home, Bolotnaya Square, the scene of massive protests in December 2011 that propelled Navalny to the status of a national opposition figure. The square was also the scene of violent clashes between police and protesters on the eve of Putin's inauguration in May 2012.
The official reason for the closure is a Formula One race reportedly scheduled for this weekend.
A presenter on online television station Dozhd-TV, which is friendly to the opposition, openly scoffed
at the explanation: "Bolotnaya Square is fenced off apparently not because they expect unsanctioned protests in support of Navalny, but instead because there will be some kind of event to do with Formula One. Although it has to be said it is unclear where the cars are going to drive."
Meanwhile, Twitter has been flooded with angry messages from Navalny's supporters. The hash tag #Навальный (Navalny) has been one of the most popular worldwide and #Манежной (Manezh) is trending strongly in Russia.