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Navalny Allies Call For Gathering At Moscow Court Hearing On Possible Jail Term


Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny
Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny

MOSCOW -- Allies of Aleksei Navalny are calling on his supporters to gather at a Moscow courthouse on February 2 where the jailed opposition politician has a hearing looking at converting a suspended sentence he served into real jail time in a case widely considered to be politically motivated.

The hearing in Moscow comes after tens of thousands of Russians rallied the past two weekends in support of the anti-corruption campaigner despite a sometimes violent police crackdown that saw thousands -- including Navalny's wife, Yulia, and most of his close associates -- detained.

"Without your help, we won't be able to resist the lawlessness of the authorities," the politician's team said on social media on February 1.

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The 44-year-old Kremlin critic was detained on January 17 upon his return from Germany, where he had been recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning, and was later remanded in pretrial detention for 30 days.

Navalny is accused of violating the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement in a case he says was trumped up but could see him jailed for 3 1/2 years.

On the eve of the start of the trial at the Moscow City Court on February 2, the Russian prosecutor's office said it supported a request from the prison authority to convert the suspended sentence into a real jail term.

Prosecutors claim he broke the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence in a case the European Court for Human Rights ruled was "arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable."

Navalny and his supporters say he was poisoned in August on the orders of President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin has dismissed extensive evidence that state agents poisoned Navalny and have rejected international calls for his release.

Tens of thousands filled the streets across the country on January 31, braving freezing weather and possible arrest to defend Navalny and voice their discontent with the government over a host of issues ranging from corruption to falling living standards.

More than 5,600 protesters were detained, according to the monitoring group OVD-Info, amid reports of police using batons and electric shock batons to break up rallies in Moscow and elsewhere.

In a statement issued late on January 31, OVD-Info noted the "disproportionately brutal actions" of security forces against peaceful demonstrators and said this was the largest number of mass arrests since it was founded more than nine years ago.

Police "deliberately interfered with the work of the press," taking 91 journalists reporting on the protests into custody in 31 cities, it said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov alleged on February 1 that a large number of protesters were "hooligans and provocateurs” and that dialogue with such people would be impossible.

One of those taken into custody was Yulia Navalnaya, who was fined 20,000 rubles ($265) on February 1 by a court in Moscow for taking part in unsanctioned rallies in support of her jailed husband.

Another Moscow court placed Kira Yarmysh, Navalny's press secretary, under house arrest until March 23 as a "restraining measure."

The court approved the measure as requested by the Investigative Committee, saying Yarmysh had violated health and safety measures enacted to stem the spread of the coronavirus by calling for mass protests to support the Kremlin critic and anti-corruption campaigner.

Andrei Pivovarov, the executive director of the opposition group Open Russia, was found guilty of repeatedly violating rules about public gatherings and was sentenced to 29 days.

Opposition politician Ilya Yashin was jailed for 15 days for allegedly disobeying a police officer.

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.

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Amnesty International said police in Moscow were holding people in deportation facilities because they had "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.

International Condemnation

In a TV interview aired on February 1, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was "deeply disturbed by the violent crackdown" and that the U.S. administration was considering possible action against Russia.

Blinken did not commit to specific sanctions against Moscow.

EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted 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."

Borrell is scheduled to fly to Moscow on February 5.

Also on February 1, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) announced it had informed Russia that it will consider a complaint filed to the court by Navalny.

His legal team argues Russia violated his right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights by refusing to open a criminal case into his poisoning with a Soviet-era nerve agent in August.

In April 2019, the ECHR ruled that Russian authorities violated Navalny's rights by holding him under house arrest in the 2014 case.

With reporting by TASS, Reuters, and AP