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Thousands Vow On Facebook To Attend Navalny Rally In Russia

The Facebook page was created after Russian authorities ordered the blocking of a previous Facebook event page calling for a demonstration in support of Navalny, who is awaiting a verdict on fraud charges widely seen as politically motivated.

Tens of thousands of people have used a new Facebook page to voice plans to attend a January rally outside the Kremlin in support of Aleksei Navalny, a prominent foe of President Vladimir Putin.

The Facebook page was created after Russian authorities ordered the blocking of a previous Facebook event page calling for a demonstration on January 15, the day a court is to issue a verdict for Navalny on fraud charges that he has dismissed as politically motivated.

Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor said on December 20 that the initial page was ordered to be blocked inside of Russia based on a request from the Prosecutor-General’s Office, which said organizers had not received permission from the authorities to hold the demonstration.

Many Russian users said that page was inaccessible, and Facebook came under criticism from government opponents in Russia as well as Michael McFaul, who was the U.S. ambassador to Moscow until February 2014.

"We were very surprised and very disappointed because of the speed with which Facebook has satisfied an ordinary request of Roskomnadzor without even contacting the organizers of the event," "The New York Times" quoted Navalny media aide Kira Yarmysh as saying.

She called the regulator's ban a politically motivated attempt to prevent the demonstration from taking place.

But by December 23, at least 29,000 people had used a new Facebook page giving the date and time of the rally to say that they would attend, with another 4,500 saying "maybe."

Navalny associate Leonid Volkov, an administrator on both Facebook pages, confirmed to RFE/RL that the new page was not blocked in Russia.

Facebook declined to comment to RFE/RL on the matter, but a person at Facebook pointed out that pages similar to the initial one were still visible in Russia.

Separately, "The New York Times" quoted an unidentified "person within Facebook" as saying that the company had received requests from the Russian government to block other pages advertising the rally and that so far it had not complied.

Thorn In The Kremlin's Side

Navalny, 38, is an anticorruption crusader who helped lead antigovernment protests in 2011-12 and unsettled the Kremlin with a strong showing in a Moscow mayoral election in 2013.

He and his brother Oleg are charged with stealing 31 million rubles ($520,000) from two companies, including an affiliate of French cosmetics firm Yves Rocher, and of laundering some of the money.

On the last day of their trial, December 19, prosecutors said that their guilt had been proven and asked for a 10-year sentence for Aleksei Navalny and an eight-year sentence for his brother.

The judge is to deliver the verdicts on January 15.

The 10-year sentence would cover both the charges in the current case and his 2013 conviction on a charges of stealing 16 million rubles from a state timber company.

Navalny was sentenced to prison after that conviction and was taken from the courtroom to a detention facility, but he was released the following day after thousands of protesters gathered outside the Kremlin.

His sentence was suspended on appeal, meaning he is not in prison now, but he has been under house arrest since late February.

Navalny denies any wrongdoing and says the cases against him are part of a campaign to keep him out of politics and punish him for leading protests and spearheading high-profile anticorruption investigations targeting powerful Russian officials.

With reporting by "The New York Times"
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