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Russian Activist Navalny Sentenced Amid Clampdown On Moscow Opposition


It's not Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's first run-in with the law. He has been sentenced to jail about a dozen times in recent years and has spent hundreds of days in custody. (file photo)

MOSCOW -- A Russian court has sentenced Aleksei Navalny to 30 days in jail as part of a larger clampdown on opposition leaders ahead of an unauthorized protest this weekend.

Navalny's July 24 sentencing came as police carried out searches at the homes of Dmitry Gudkov, Ivan Zhdanov, and Aleksandr Solovyov, all opposition candidates for Moscow city council seats.

INFOGRAPHIC: All The Times Aleksei Navalny Has Been In Jail (CLICK TO VIEW)

"About 10 police officers have come to search our house. I am in Bulgaria with our son, they are not letting Dima [Dmitry Gudkov] call me. The police are looking for material about the upcoming action on the 27th," Gudkov’s wife, Valeria, wrote on Twitter.

Yulia Galyamina and Lyubov Sobol, two other opposition candidates seeking city council seats, said Russia's Investigative Committee summoned them around midnight on July 24 to appear the next morning for questioning about hindering the work of the Moscow Election Committee.

Gennady Gudkov, another opposition figure, said he too was summoned by Russia's Investigative Committee shortly before midnight to appear on July 25 for questioning.

He did not state the reason for the questioning.

The opposition leaders have called for a rally to take place on July 27 to protest a decision by the Moscow Election Committee to reject the registration of independent candidates for the September city council elections.

The rally has not been sanctioned by the government.

Gennady Gudkov said the authorities "fear" people protesting.

There are signs that Russia’s protest movement is reviving following a lull of several years amid growing discontent on issues ranging from living standards to civil rights.

About 20,000 people gathered on July 20 in Moscow to demand free and fair elections.

Navalny said it was the largest turnout since 2012, when Russians took to the streets of Moscow following national parliamentary elections they considered to have been rigged.

A protest in St. Petersburg on July 24 drew 3,000 people to demand free and fair elections.

'All Eyes On Moscow'

Moscow election officials refused to register the independent candidates for the September poll on the grounds that many of the signatures of support they submitted were either invalid or falsified.

Candidates need to collect signatures from 3 percent of the electorate in their respective Moscow districts, which could range from 4,500 voters to more than 6,000.

The independent candidates have accused the committee of fraud, claiming the officials are trying to find excuses to prevent them from competing against pro-government politicians.

The 45-seat Moscow Duma passes laws and adopts the city's $43 billion budget, the biggest in Russia.

The appearance of several opposition figures could hinder the power of Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, a loyalist of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and put under scrutiny how the massive budget is spent.

The outcome of the battle between the Moscow Election Commission and the independent candidates could set a precedent for the rest of Russia, said Maria Snegovaya, a fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis who focuses on Russian domestic politics.

"All eyes are on Moscow right now," Snegovaya told RFE/RL. "If the independent candidates are allowed to run, this would serve as a very important inspiration for the opposition across the country and possibly mobilize it in light of the upcoming regional elections in September."

Navalny, who is not running for the Moscow Duma, told the crowd on July 20 that he would lead another protest the following weekend if the city did not register the independent candidates.

In a short video filmed at a Moscow police station and posted on the social media site Instagram on July 24, Navalny said he spotted a special police task force van nearby as he began to exercise and was quickly apprehended.

"They are right when say that sports is sometimes not good for you. I just left home today for jogging a bit and to buy flowers for my wife as it is her birthday today,” Navalny said.

“Now, like a fool, I am standing here in the police station in my jogging shorts. Yulia, sorry, it turned out this way," he added.

The court gave the Kremlin foe the maximum sentence of 30 days.

It is his second sentencing this month. Navalny was released from jail on July 11 after serving a 10-day sentence for attending an unsanctioned protest in Moscow.

He had been sentenced to jail about a dozen times in recent years and has served more than 200 days in incarceration.