Putin critic Navalny detained by police before pre-election rally

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks during an interview with Reuters in Moscow, Russia, July 12, 2017. Picture taken July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was detained by police as he left his Moscow home on Friday to attend a pre-election rally in a provincial town.

Russia holds a presidential election in March which incumbent Vladimir Putin is widely expected to contest. Navalny hopes to run despite Russia’s central election commission declaring him ineligible because of a suspended prison sentence which he says was politically-motivated.

Navalny said on social media on Friday that police had detained him in the lobby of his apartment block and told him they wanted to interview him at a police station.

He was released around 11 hours later and told to appear in court on Monday to face charges of repeatedly violating laws governing the organization of public meetings and rallies, Navalny’s spokeswoman told Reuters. He faces up to 30 days in jail if found guilty, she said.

The press service of Moscow’s interior ministry was cited by the TASS news agency as saying Navalny had been detained due to his “repeated calls to take part in unsanctioned public events”.

The authorities say opposition protests must be pre-approved by them, but Navalny has in the past said that the Russian constitution enshrines the right to hold such events freely.

On Friday, he denied the police’s latest allegations, writing on social media: “I’ve never done that.”

Navalny had been due to address a pre-election rally in the city of Nizhny Novgorod later on Friday, part of a series of regional events he hoped would help him build support for his presidential run.

Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Jack Stubbs; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe/Jeremy Gaunt