As the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny gains more of a following, the more he gets arrested by President Vladimir Putin’s government.
On Sunday, Navalny was arrested yet again in Moscow for organizing another unauthorized protest calling for a boycott of the upcoming presidential election.
“I’ve been detained. This doesn’t matter. Come to Tverskaya (Street). You are not going there for me, it’s for you and your future,” tweeted Navalny after his arrest.
Thousands of supporters continued to march after he was arrested for “violating demonstration laws. :
“I am proud of all those who joined us today in any capacity: from Magadan to Sochi. From the FBK office to the headquarters in Kemerovo. From Krasnodar to Yakutsk, where the meeting took place at -40. These are real citizens,” said Navalny in a Facebook post. “Be real citizens. Go out to the demo in your city.”
This was the fourth time he was detained since he started campaigning against Putin about a year ago. Last June, he was held for 30 days. This time, Navalny has already been released without charge but has a court hearing where he could get a fine and face 30 days in detention again.
Although there was a large crowd, the turnout was less than the two anti-corruption protests that took place last year. However, these gained more momentum because Putin’s government barred Navalny from running late last year.
Last December, 16,000 of Navalny’s supporters gathered in 20 cities across Russia as he declared his candidacy. Even though only 500 supporters have to gather in order for a candidate to be officially nominated, the committee still barred Navalny from running due to “criminal conviction for embezzlement that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled against and Mr. Navalny himself says was politically motivated,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
“A citizen who has been sentenced to imprisonment for committing a grave or especially grave crime, and who has an outstanding conviction for the said crime, has no right to be elected president of the Russian Federation,” said Boris Ebzeev, a member of the Central Election Committee (CEC,) which announced he would not be eligible to run.
Navalny, who the WSJ as coined as “the man Vladimir Putin fears the most,” claims that it’s his significant support that influenced the decision to bar him from the election.
“The procedure in which we are invited to participate is not an election,” said Navalny. “It involves only Putin and those candidates whom he personally chose, who do not pose the slightest threat to him.”
Prior to Sunday’s protest, police forced their way into Navalny’s office while they were filming a YouTube broadcast.
“In order to take down our broadcast, the police cut out the door to the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) office, and then began to saw the door to the studio right in the middle of broadcast,” said Navalny in a Facebook post. “Do you know the formal reason? Dmitry Nizovtsev, the host, was accused of planting a bomb (without actually going off air, we must assume), and it was necessary to cut the doors ASAP in order to find this bomb. And then they detained him. Watch it, it’s a good example of what the Russian police has become.”
Eight members of Navalny’s campaign staff were also detained on Sunday. 257 people total were detained, which is significantly less than last year’s protests.
Besides being an outspoken critic of Putin, Navalny has launched multiple anti-corrupt campaigns against politicians. He writes a popular blog and operates a YouTube channel to promote protests and his campaign and to expose corruption scandals.
Not all the demonstrators at Sunday’s protest were in support of Navalny either, several were there to show their disapproval for Putin. Navalny’s campaign has morphed into a movement.
“As long as I’ve been alive, Putin has always been in. I’m tired of nothing being changed,” said 19-year-old protester, Vlad Ivanov to the Chicago Tribune.
“There are signs that this country is changing, even if its leadership isn’t. One recent survey by the state-backed Russian Academy of Sciences found that 51 percent of Russians – and 62 percent of those under the age of 30 – now think reforms are more important than stability,” writes the Globe and Mail. “It was the first time in 15 years that a majority chose change over stabilnost – a word that has become synonymous with having Mr. Putin in the Kremlin, and a one-word explanation for why he should remain there.”
Author’s note: We aren’t surprised that Putin and the Russian political system tried to shut down Navalny even before the protest. But Navalny was released pretty quickly. This may mark the beginning of a new era of political freedom. Putin’s government knows that accelerating things could only backfire and lead to more support for Navalny.