More than 10,000 have been detained at pro-Navalny rallies in Russia, monitor says

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More than 10,000 people have been detained at recent rallies in Russia in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, a protest monitor said on Wednesday, adding that many of them have also been subject to mistreatment while in police custody.

Navalny called on Russians to take to the streets after he was detained last month on arrival in Moscow from Germany where he had been recovering from a poisoning with a Soviet-designed nerve agent.

Hundreds more filled the streets of the capital Moscow Tuesday evening, after Navalny, 44, was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence on embezzlement charges he claims were a pretext to silence him.

At nationwide rallies over the last two weeks, more than 10,000 people were seized by police, the OVD-Info group that monitors opposition protests said in its report released on Wednesday.

Russia’s Union of Journalists, meanwhile, said that more than 100 journalists were either injured or detained at the rallies.

Detainees are held for hours “in horrid and stuffy conditions, without food or the opportunity to use a bathroom,” OVD-Info analyst Grigory Durnovo told Ekho Moskvy radio.

He added that lawyers from the group, which provides free legal aid to detained protesters, were at times not given access to detention centres.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has defended the government’s crackdown on the protesters, saying that “the holding of unauthorised rallies raises concerns and justifies the tough actions of the police”.

News editor jailed

Later on Wednesday a Russian court sentenced Sergei Smirnov, chief editor of Mediazona, an online news publication often critical of the government, to 25 days in jail over a re-tweet.

Ahead of a January 23 protest in Navalny’s support, Smirnov, 45, re-tweeted a joke that included the time of the protest rally.

An analyst working for OVD-Info, Grigory Durnovo, told AFP that many of the detainees had been subjected to “difficult conditions” in custody and that authorities were purposefully carrying out “harsh detentions”.

Echoing detainee testimonies, Durnovo said Moscow’s detention centres had reached full capacity due to the massive influx of Navalny supporters.

On Tuesday, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, ordered checks of detained men to see if they have avoided military service, which in Russia is compulsory for one year.

Navalny’s arrest and the violent police crackdown has been condemned by international rights groups and Western governments, including the United States, Britain and France.

Germany on Wednesday reiterated calls to free Navalny and said that more EU sanctions on Russia “cannot be ruled out”.

The UN Human Rights Office called for the release of protesters detained “for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression”.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)