“POLITICAL CHERNOBYL”: NAVALNY’S SENTENCE AND NATIONWIDE PROTESTS
3.5 Years in Penal Colony and Thousand Arrested, Detention Centers Full
NAVALNY IS SENTENCED TO 3,5 YEARS IN PENAL COLONY
On Tuesday, February 2, Russian opposition leader Navalny has been sentenced to 3.5 years imprisonment in a penal colony for violating the terms of bail. He will be imprisoned for 2 years and 8 months as 10 months of house arrest will count against that time. The official reason is Navalny’s failure to appear for probation check-ins with prison officials while in Germany recovering from a coma. Navalny was poisoned with the nerve agent in August 2020. In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled his 2014 conviction arbitrary and unreasonable and Russia paid him compensation in line with that ruling. Navalny’s defense said that Navalny didn’t hide from surveillance and that he was put on the wanted list illegally, adding that his whereabouts were always known. The lawyer referred to the situation as to “political Chernobyl” and asked the judge not to push the detonation button.
In his closing statement, Navalny said that the reason for his arrest was “the hatred and fear of just one person, a person living in a bunker” and that he “inflicted a mortal offense on [Putin] him by the fact that I survived after [security services] they tried to kill me on his orders.”
He also said, “It is the duty of every person to fight this system. And my duty is to fight. I fight as best I can and will continue to do so. I happened to be captured by the people who love to smear everything with chemical weapons. And they won’t give a cent [three kopecks] for my life now. But even now, from here, I will fight with you and urge everyone not to be afraid! I salute all those who are fighting and are not afraid, the Anti-Corruption Fund employees who are now being persecuted, people all over the country who are not afraid to protest in the streets. They have the same rights as you. Our country belongs to them as much as to you. We are all citizens. We demand lawful elections, real justice. There are many good things in Russia, and the best thing is the very people who are not afraid, do not lower their eyes, do not look at the desk, who will never give their country to a bunch of corrupt officials who decided to exchange their homeland for vineyards and “aqua-diskos.” I demand my immediate release. This show trial is illegal. I do not recognize it. Thanks.” Read the full speech here.
The Kremlin announced that Putin was not following today’s hearing and expressed hope that Navalny’s sentence would not affect Russia’s ties with Europe. Diplomats from the Czech Republic, Austria, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Britain, Latvia, Poland, and EU representatives are present at the hearing. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova commented that the presence of foreign diplomats at Navalny’s hearing “isn’t just meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, but the self-incrimination of the west’s unsightly and illegal attempts to contain Russia.”
On the day of a trial, mass arrests began in front of the court and continued throughout the day. Over 300 people were arrested in connection with Navalny’s trial in Moscow. The special detention centers in Moscow are at full capacity and police vans are being sent to a village where people are held inside vans with no food, water, restrooms, heat, standing up for more than 9 hours. A similar situation was observed in St.Petersburg.
Russia protested the injustice: On January 23, 2021, unprecedented mass protests nationwide rolled over 120 cities, with estimated 300,000 protesters, and 4,000 arrested. On January 31, 2021, over 5,000 people were arrested in over 80 cities for protesting the corruption of the Russian government and demanding freedom for Alexey Navalny. 200 children and 93 journalists were arrested nationwide. Protests were dispersed by the police and riot police. The security forces beat the protesters with batons and used electric shockers and gas. The most popular chant was “Putin is a thief!” Small towns and villages stepped out in the streets. In Moscow, the detention centers were full, with 1,500 arrested and 40 protestors were driven around the city in police vans.
KREMLIN CRACKS DOWN ON THE OPPOSITION THE WEEK PRIOR TO PROTESTS
During the week prior to the “unsanctioned” protest, authorities arrested and sentenced to home arrest without access to the Internet and right to communication dozens of Navalny’s team coordinator, activists, and allies. Their apartments and offices were searched, electronic devices and equipment confiscated. The article used for the majority of the detained and arrested was a newly adopted “violation of sanitary and epidemiological rules” (Article 236 of the Criminal Code). Police tracking devices, handcuffs, intimidation, demonstrative arrests were intended to stop the Russian citizens from expressing their outrage at the government.
The Internet watchdog Roskomnadzor attempted to delete social media calls for protest. Representatives of Facebook, TikTok, VK, Telegram were summoned to hear the consequences for failure to delete calls to protest. Bots and trolls spread pro-Kremlin and anti-opposition conspiracy theories on social media. The top two trending hashtags were “President is My Friend.”
Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund called on Biden’s administration to impose personal sanctions on 35 Putin’s cronies, oligarchs, officials, media figures.
PROTESTS: RUSSIA ON THIN ICE
In most cities, there was an unprecedented mobilization of the security forces, with central parts blocked by police. Hundreds of police officers and law enforcement were deployed to prevent rallies. “I have never been to the occupied territories, but I think it must look something like this. We were occupied and we did not notice,” tweeted an observer. Riot police picked random people from the crowd, chased them, and detained them.
Getting to the protest was a challenge: the gathering points had to be changed as authorities blocked the Internet, closed transportation, and spread fake information about gathering times and spots. On the day of the planned protest, Moscow police closed seven metro stops downtown, as well as shops, cafes, and restaurants. In St.Petersburg, the access to the main street, Nevsky prospect, was blocked. Pedestrians have to show ID to get to their residences and workplaces.
Russia has eleven time zones; the demonstrations started at 12.00 pm in each time zone. Protests started in the Far East and Siberia, in cities and smaller towns, such as Blagoveschensk, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsk, Magadan, Ukhta, with thousands chanting “Putin is a thief!” Authorities underreported the number of protestors, minimizing it while arresting many, in order to intimidate people in the European part of Russia and prevent them from protesting in the streets.
Snow and ice became a part of Russian protests. In Vladivostok, protestors were detained on the way to the protest. Police blocked access to the central square and pushed the protestors on the ice of the Japan sea where people dancing a folk dance, chanting, “Putin is a thief!” In Ekaterinburg, an estimated 7,000–10,000 demonstrators chanted “Fascists!” at riot police. Just as in Vladivostok, police pushed protestors to walk on the pond ice.
In St.Petersburg, where 20,000–30,000 took to the streets, a group of protestors was forced to walk on the iced-clad river, where they wrote “Navalny” on the snow-covered surface.
In Ulyanovsk, Lenin’s hometown, an arrested man was thrown with a bare stomach on the snow. In Kazan, riot police put people face down in the snow.
In Yakutsk, with temperatures below -45F, people chanted, “We are for human rights!”
In Khabarovsk, amidst ice and snow sculptures, several hundred police and riot police officers blocked all approaches to downtown and young and old protestors were arrested. In Kemerovo, the planned gathering place was blocked off with snow removal equipment, and shops, pharmacies, and internet cafes around were closed.
In Moscow, the riot police wiped of “Navalny” written on the snow-covered balustrade.
PROTESTS: NOT PRO-NAVALNY. ANTI-CORRUPTION, ANTI-PUTIN
The protestors demanded freedom for political prisoners and Navalny but were mainly moved by their anti-government sentiment. In Ulan-Ude, a man was arrested for chanting, “For free Russia!” A journalist asked him, “And what kind of Russia do we have now?” “Corrupt,” said the man, lead away by riot police down Revolution street. In Omsk, 2,000–3,000 protestors chanted, “Putin is a thief” and “Down with the Tsar.” In Novosibirsk, an estimated 10,000 protestors chanted, “Three, two, one. Putin is not for us! One two, three, Putin go away.” In Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk, the police circled the protestors. People chanted: “Shame, shame, shame!” and “Putin, get out! You and your National Guard!”
In Tomsk, where the protestors chanted, “Freedom to Aleksey Navalny!” a housewife said, “I am for all except for Putin. This regime must go.”
In Chelyabinsk, where 5,000–6,000 people also chanted, “Putin is a thief!”, riot police brutally attacked the protestors, beating them with batons. In response, people made a chain in front of riot police and chanted, “We are not armed.”
In St.Petersburg, protestors carried posters, “Bunker grandpa is afraid of me” and “Russia has two problems: Novichok and starichok (little old man)” and chanted “Off with the Tsar!” “Fascists” and “Putin is a thief!” In Moscow, people carried gold-painted toilet brushes, as a reference to Putin’s $2,000 toilet brush and $1.4 bn palace.
Security forces showed unprecedented brutality. In Volgograd, protesters were being detained by people in plain clothes in black hats and black medical masks. Nizhni Novgorod was nearly occupied by riot police, troops, and the National Guard. In Sochi, both random pedestrians — children, a couple with a dog, tourists — and journalists reporting about the situation were arrested.
In St. Petersburg, riot police used tear gas and tasers and used a psy-op intimidating technique of stomping feet and beating the shields. A protestor fainted after five riot police officers beat him up with batons.
In Moscow, police used martial arts moves, twisting arms behind people’s backs. In Moscow, where an estimated number of 15,000 showed up for the protests, over 1,500 were arrested. Julia Navalnaya, who joined the protestors, was also arrested.
See a detailed report of the January 31 protests here.
Read a report of the January 23 protest.