MOSCOW (Reuters) - Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s wife told his supporters on Wednesday they would still triumph despite his jailing and thanked them for protesting in a case she said had made her life a stream of police stations, home searches and court hearings.
A court on Tuesday sentenced Navalny, a prominent opponent of Vladimir Putin, to three and a half years for parole violations he said were trumped up to sideline him, ignoring calls from the West and protesters at home to release him.
Navalny’s supporters gathered to show support during the ruling and protested afterwards, prompting authorities to shut down some metro stations in Moscow and detain more than 1,400 people, according to a protest monitor.
Most of Navalny’s prominent allies are under house arrest or in custody. Some of his supporters have suggested his wife Yulia Navalnaya take up his mantle as in Belarus last summer where Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was thrust to the fore of national politics after her husband was jailed.
“I don’t know what to entertain you with here. My life recently is police stations, courts and searches,” Yulia Navalnaya wrote in a post on Instagram.
“I’m reading all your messages and understand that so many good, strong and decent people support Alexei and me that we shouldn’t give in and be afraid. We’ll win anyway.”
“A huge thank you to all of you for coming out (to the streets), for writing and asking how I am. I’m okay.”
Navalny’s allies accuse the police of essentially outlawing public protest and of using disproportionate force and violence to break up rallies and stifle their campaigning.
On Wednesday, a court jailed Sergei Smirnov, editor-in-chief of independent outlet Mediazona that has covered the protests in detail, for 25 days after finding him guilty of repeatedly flouting protest legislation.
State investigators also charged Navalny’s brother Oleg, an activist and a member of the Pussy Riot punk group with breaching COVID-19 regulations over a protest on Jan. 23, the RIA news agency reported.
The Kremlin said the police’s response at Tuesday evening’s protests had been justified because the protests were illegal and unauthorised. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Navalny’s allies of deliberately provoking the police by calling protests near the Kremlin following the ruling.
“The police reaction was due to the threats that could have arisen from staging such a protest,” he told reporters on a conference call. “The provocations comprise of the fact that there were calls yesterday for unsanctioned protests.”
Navalny’s allies have circulated footage of scenes they say show police violence, including one clip in which a riot police officer strikes a cameraman with a truncheon, flooring him.
Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said the incident was the subject of an internal investigation.
The West has called on Moscow to release Navalny, but Russia has told it stay out of its sovereign affairs.
“The hysteria we’ve heard over the legal process for the Navalny case is of course off the scale,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
The mood on the snowy streets of Moscow was mixed.
“I’m not much excited by either our authorities’s actions or those of Navalny,” said Maxim, who did not give a surname.
“People are tired, people aren’t fools... as for the police actions, they really are animals. The situation is indirectly repeating the Belarus scenario,” said Danila, 25.
Reporting by Dmitry Antonov, Vladimir Soldatkin, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Polina Ivanova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Alexandra Hudson
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