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Navalny Calls For Street Protests As World Blasts Russian's Detention


Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny waits for a hearing in a police station in Khimki, outside Moscow, on January 18.
Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny waits for a hearing in a police station in Khimki, outside Moscow, on January 18.

MOSCOW -- Aleksei Navalny has urged Russians to take to the streets in protest after a judge at a hastily arranged hearing in a makeshift courtroom just outside Moscow ruled to keep the Kremlin critic in police custody for 30 days after his dramatic airport arrest a day earlier.

At a January 18 hearing, which Navalny called a "mockery of justice," the judge ruled to keep him incarcerated until February 15, by which time a different court is expected to decide whether to convert a suspended 3 1/2 year sentence he served in an embezzlement case, which he says was trumped up, into real jail time.

Navalny’s detention has sparked global outrage and a chorus of international calls pressuring President Vladimir Putin for Navalny’s immediate release.

In St. Petersburg, police detained at least 20 people among a crowd of hundreds of Navalny supporters who had gathered at the Gostiny Dvor trade complex.

Detentions were made during similar rallies in support of the politician in Moscow and Khimki, near the capital.

"That very old man, the thief in the bunker is sitting there trembling in fear. They are scared, that is why they are doing all this in such an expedited, secret, and surreptitious way. They are in such a hurry (to jail me) because they are scared," Navalny said in the video, posted on YouTube in a reference to Putin and other Russian politicians.

"Do not be silent, resist, come out to the streets. Nobody will defend us except ourselves. And there are so many of us that if we want to achieve something we will make it," he added.

Navalny’s team headquarters in St. Petersburg called for nationwide protests on January 23.

"[Aleksei] is not afraid, do not be afraid either!" a tweet from the group said, adding that people were "indignant" over the ruling.

Police led the 44-year-old away on January 17 at the Sheremetyevo International Airport’s passport-control booth after he arrived from Berlin, where he had been recovering from the attack in August that Navalny says was ordered by Putin.

Aides said Navalny was denied access to his lawyers and notified at the last minute of the hearing, while his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh posted a video of the opposition politician chiding President Vladimir Putin for fearing him so much that he has abandoned the country's laws altogether.

Navalny has been held incommunicado, his lawyers said, adding that they had not been granted access to him and that his condition was unknown.

"I’ve seen justice mocked many times, but this time the old guy in the bunker seems so scared that the Criminal Code has been ostentatiously ripped apart and thrown away," Navalny said in a separate video before the ruling on Twitter in an apparent reference to Putin.

Navalny Says Putin 'Scared,' Calls Detention Hearing 'Lawlessness'
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Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) said Navalny was being held because of "multiple violations" of the conditions of his suspended sentence relating to a 2014 fraud conviction and of evading criminal inspectors.

Navalny has said the case against him was trumped up and politically motivated.

Moscow’s Simonovsky district court will hear the state’s case to convert the suspended sentence on February 2. Russian lawyers said decisions on such issues are made quickly, generally in one hearing and, in exceptional cases, in two or three hearings. Sentence conversion is a common practice with Russian courts presiding over more than 15,000 cases last year.

'I Am Not Afraid': Defiant Navalny Detained At Moscow Airport
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Navalny, who Amnesty International on January 17 called a "prisoner of conscience," was poisoned in August by what tests at Western laboratories showed was a Novichok nerve agent. He was flown to Germany for emergency medical care after falling acutely ill while traveling in Siberia.

The opposition politician, who has been jailed numerous times in Russia for organizing and leading anti-government protests, blames the poisoning on Russian authorities. Moscow denies any involvement.

The poisoning, which was similar to the near-fatal attack on Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in 2018 in the English city of Salisbury, drew widespread international attention, as did Navalny's planned return after Russia's prison authority warned of Navalny's potential incarceration.

"The United States notes with grave concern that Mr. Navalny’s detention is the latest in a series of what appears to be attacks targeting opposition figures and independent voices critical of Russian authorities in an intensifying effort to silence civil society," U. S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said in a statement.

"Confident political leaders do not fear independent voices, nor do they see the need to misuse legal authorities to commit violence against or wrongfully detain political opponents. The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve a government that supports an open exchange of ideas, transparent and accountable governance, fair and equal treatment under the law, and the ability to exercise their rights without fear of retribution," he added.

The U.S. ambassador's words were echoed by the United Nations, the European Union, and many other countries and human rights groups, who have called for the Kremlin to explain how he was attacked with a Soviet-style chemical weapon.

"We are deeply troubled by the arrest of [Aleksei] Navalny, and call for his immediate release and for his due process rights to be respected in line with the rule of law. We reiterate our call for a thorough and impartial investigation into his poisoning," UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet's office said on Twitter on January 18.

"The European Union condemns the detention of the Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny upon his return to Moscow on 17 January and calls for his immediate release," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement on behalf of the bloc's 27 nations.

"The EU will follow closely the developments in this field and will continue to take this into account when shaping its policy towards Russia."

Former Soviet republics Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia pushed other EU members at a ministerial meeting on January 18 to expand punitive measures that the bloc imposed in October over Navalny's poisoning.

"Lithuania, in the name of all three Baltic states, suggested to consider possible sanctions at today's General Affairs Council over the arrest of [Aleksei] Navalny and so-called court hearing that is taking place now," said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis.

"We are the realists towards Russia as we live at the border. I hope that some EU capitals will wake up from their optimism and return towards realism."

Britain also joined in the chorus of calls for the Kremlin to act on January 18, demanding Navalny's release, saying Moscow should explain how he was attacked with a Soviet-style chemical weapon.

"It is appalling that Aleksei Navalny, the victim of a despicable crime, has been detained by Russian authorities. He must be immediately released," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

"Rather than persecuting Mr. Navalny, Russia should explain how a chemical weapon came to be used on Russian soil."

Russia, meanwhile, continued to shrug off the West's consternation.

The Kremlin itself usually refers questions about Navalny to law enforcement agencies, but Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on January 18 called the condemnation of the detention an attempt to distract from the West's own problems.

"You can feel the joy with which these comments [on Navalny's arrest] are coming out," Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow.

"Judging by everything, it allows Western politicians to think that by doing this they can divert attention away from the deep crisis that the liberal model of development finds itself in," he added.

Navalny had been scheduled to arrive at Moscow's Vnukovo airport, where hundreds of his supporters had gathered amid a massive riot-police presence.

At the last minute, however, authorities closed Vnukovo to incoming flights and diverted Navalny's plane to Sheremetyevo airport on the other side of the capital.

Police detained numerous people who were awaiting Navalny's arrival at Vnukovo, including Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer for Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation; Ruslan Shaveddinov, a project manager for the foundation; and Novaya Gazeta journalist Vlad Dokshin. Other journalists were also reportedly among the detained.

Sobol and others later said they were released and were facing administrative charges.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Interfax

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