Thousands of Russians assembled for an unlawful protest in Moscow Tuesday night, shouting slogans such as, “Putin is a thief!” “Crimea is not ours!” and “No Putin, no war!” Hundreds were arrested.
Other chants included sentiments of solidarity with Ukrainians: “Russians! Ukrainians! Brothers forever!” “Putin is Russia’s shame!” “Russia doesn’t trust Putin!” besides the more topical, “Freedom for Navanly!”
The protest was organized around the abrupt sentencing of Russian opposition leader and blogger Alexei Navalry and his brother Oleg Navalny. Alexei Navalny has been for several years one of the most outspoken of Putin’s critics. He and his brother were charged with defrauding a French chocolate company for $520,000.
The sentence was expected to be handed down Jan. 15, but it was suddenly moved forward to Dec. 30, the date of one of the biggest holidays in Russia and the first of the Russian New Years holiday that lasts until Jan. 8.
Also unexpectedly, Navalny received only a suspended sentence instead of the up to 10 years many expected. His brother received 3 years prison for the same charge. Both men were also fined 4.4 million rubles.
Alexei Navalny, however, was arrested hours later for attempting to make his way to Tuesday night’s protest.
Thousands of protesters gathered in front of the Kremlin at Manezh Square to demonstrate against the trial. Rock band Pussy Riot had released a video early Tuesday urging participation at the protest, and approximately 18,000 people indicated they would attend via a Facebook page.
Among those arrested were Aider Muzhdabaev, deputy editor in chief of Moskovsky Komsomolets and journalist Alexander Kolyandr, who was detained for reasons that have not yet been reported.
Around 70 of those arrested were still being held as of Wednesday.
Protesters in Russia can be arrested if the assembly has not been authorized by the Russian government beforehand, although the Russian constitution guarantees, “Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to gather peacefully, without weapons, and to hold meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets.” (Art. 31.) In 2012, the Russian government stiffened penalties for protesters by raising fines for illegal protesters and criminalizing the use of masks, weapons or objects that may be used as weapons, and the organization of protests by citizens who have been convicted of certain crimes.
By James Haleavy
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