Four prominent allies of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny were detained overnight in what appeared to be an effort from law enforcement to blunt more anti-government demonstrations scheduled for this weekend.
Authorities arrested Navalny’s brother Oleg Navalny; top ally Lyubov Sobol; Anastasia Vasilyeva, who is a member of the Navalny-supported Alliance of Doctors; and Maria Alyokhina, a member of the Pussy Riot punk band. The arrests were first confirmed by Ivan Zhdanov, another prominent opposition figure and the director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation.
All four were reportedly detained for 48 hours over what law enforcement said were violations of coronavirus protocols during last weekend’s mass demonstrations, which led to the arrests of over 1,000 protesters.
Besides the arrests, police also searched over a dozen apartments and offices of top Navalny allies as the Kremlin ramps up its efforts to quash an opposition movement that has been galvanized by Navalny’s own arrest.
Navalny was detained by authorities on Jan. 17 when he returned from Germany where he was being treated for poisoning. He was poisoned late last year in what is broadly believed to have been an attack directed by Moscow.
The Kremlin defended the new arrests, claiming they were simply a part of an investigation into alleged violations of coronavirus protocols.
“Law enforcement agencies are doing their job,” Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinErdoğan says Turkey plans to buy another Russian defense system EU 'denounces' Russian malicious cyber activity aimed at member states Navalny knocks Apple, Google for removing voting app MORE’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with reporters, according to The Associated Press. “There were numerous violations of Russian laws, and law enforcement agencies are at work.”
Peskov also said Russia was calling on social media platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter, TikTok and others to block posts calling for more demonstrations this weekend.
“The state doesn’t want the social networks to become a platform for promoting such illegal actions,” Peskov said.
The overnight detentions came ahead of a Thursday hearing to consider Navalny’s appeal of his arrest. He had been detained after prosecutors said he violated the probation terms of a suspended 2014 sentence on a money-laundering conviction, a case Navalny says is politically motivated.
The court rejected Navalny’s appeal, but the opposition leader warned his detention would do little to dull the enthusiasm of the movement he leads.
“You won’t succeed in scaring tens of millions of people who have been robbed by that government,” he said, according to the AP.