Allies of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny arrested, fined, before protest

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Jan. 22 (UPI) — Russian authorities arrested and fined multiple allies and associates of detained opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Friday on the eve of demonstrations planned for 70 cities across the country Saturday.

On Thursday, police arrested and detained key members of Navalny’s team, including investigator Georgy Alburov; press secretary Kira Yarmysh; regional coordinators Anastasia Panchenko and Yekaterina Vedernikova; and three lawyers associated with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Vladlen Los, Mansur Gilmanov and Lyubov Sobol, The Moscow Times reported Friday. Gilmanov was reportedly beaten at a police station when he arrived to represent his colleague Los, the Times reported.

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Navalny was arrested and detained for a month Monday after returning to Russia from Germany, where he had been recuperating from what doctors said was an attempted poisoning by the Soviet-era toxin Novichok.

On Tuesday, while Navalny remained behind bars in coronavirus isolation, his investigative team released a video of a lavish estate on the Black Sea coast that the opposition leader said was built for Russian President Vladimir Putin using $1.3 billion in taxpayer money.

“This is not a country house, not a cottage, not a residence. It’s a whole city, or rather a kingdom,” Navalny said of the 17,300-acre estate, which includes an underground ice rink, tennis courts, an amphitheater and a mountain tunnel leading to the beach.

“Putin’s friends, who received from him the right to steal whatever they wanted in Russia, thanked him a lot. But they also chipped in, collected 100 billion rubles and built a palace for their boss with this money,” Navalny added.

Almost 150,000 people have signed up as “going” or “interested” on VKontakte, or VK, and Facebook social networks for protests demanding Navalny’s release on Saturday in multiple Russian cities.

Navalny’s wife said she plans to attend the protests.

But Russian authorities have said that the protests are not authorized and the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation said mass events planned for Jan. 23 were illegal. Russian authorities are cracking down on TikTok and VK, demanding that posts be taken down.

“Law enforcement bodies have been told to take preventive measures, and if there are grounds for it, take administrative action against those responsible,” the office told official news service Tass on Thursday.

Worldwide, national leaders are calling for the release of Navalny, including Charles Michel, President of the European Council, who tweeted Friday that he had spoken with Putin to demand Navalny’s release.

“Today I reiterated the EU is united in its condemnation of Alexey Navalny’s detention and calls for his immediate release,” Michel said. “Russia must urgently proceed with full and transparent investigation into the assassination attempt on him,” he added.

Navalny became ill in August on a flight from Siberia to Moscow and fell into a coma. After Russian doctors said they could find no evidence of anything wrong, Navalny was transferred to Berlin where doctors found evidence of poisoning.

Last month, Navalny said he was able to dupe a member of Russia’s FSB spy agency into revealing that they were behind the poisoning but the Kremlin dismissed his claims.