Jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has called on Russians nationwide to protest on President Vladimir Putin’s 65th birthday on October 7, despite a Kremlin warning that organizers of unsanctioned public gatherings will face prosecution.
In a statement on his website on October 4, Navalny accused Putin's government of using attacks and arrests to thwart his efforts to run in a March presidential election and urged supporters to "tell everyone around you" not to tolerate it.
"October 7 is the day when we will try to say this all together, openly and directly. Let...Putin hear this and go into his deserved retirement," Navalny wrote.
"He has been in power for 18 years and that is enough," he added.
Navalny urged his supporters to use all possible means -- including social networks, text messages, and "phoning your grandma" -- to campaign for an open and fair poll.
He also urged Russians to take to the streets, saying that his campaign workers were planning "pickets" in dozens of cities across Russia on October 7, including Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Navalny said that "every decent person in Russia" should demand that the government allow real political competition and let him run in the March 18, 2018 election.
Navalny is an outspoken critic of Putin, who has held power as prime minister or president since 1999 and is expected to seek and secure a new six-year Kremlin term in the vote.
The 41-year-old lawyer, who has produced numerous reports alleging corruption among key Putin allies, has opened more than 60 campaign offices and held rallies nationwide since announcing in December that he plans to seek the presidency.
In June, however, the Central Election Commission said that Navalny was ineligible to run for public office because of a financial-crimes conviction in a case that he contests was fabricated by the Kremlin for political reasons.
Navalny's new message came a day after the Kremlin warned his supporters not to hold rallies without permission from the authorities, saying that violators will be prosecuted.
"Public calls for unsanctioned rallies and meetings are illegal...and therefore organizers of such events will be prosecuted," Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters in Moscow on October 3.
A Moscow court ordered Navalny held in custody for 20 days on October 2, preventing him from attending what was initially expected to be an October 7 rally solely in St. Petersburg, Putin's hometown.
He called his third incarceration this year a "birthday present" given to Putin, while human right group Amnesty International described it as "yet further evidence of the Russian authorities' relentless stranglehold on civil society."
Navalny and some of his campaign workers and supporters have faced attacks and other forms of pressure in recent months.
Navalny was detained by police outside his Moscow home on September 29 as he left to catch a train for the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod, where he had organized a rally that evening.
Navalny and his campaign chief Leonid Volkov were found guilty of calling for an unsanctioned rally in Nizhny Novgorod. They contend that organizers had received permission for the rally.
Kremlin opponents and human rights activists say the government frequently violates the constitutional right to free assembly when it withholds permission for demonstrations or places restrictions on where and when they can be held.