by Sarah Hurst
Vladimir Putin raised the stakes last night by sending his opponent Alexei Navalny and Navalny’s campaign chief Leonid Volkov to prison for 20 days each. Banning Navalny from the presidential election on March 18 hasn’t stopped him from holding a series of rallies around Russia at which he debated issues with voters and demanded to be included on the ballot. Thousands of people showed up in far-flung cities from Murmansk to Vladivostok to see Navalny, although Russian state TV channels won’t even mention his name. Nor will Putin, for that matter.
Navalny and Volkov were detained on Friday when they were planning to hold a rally in Nizhny Novgorod. Navalny made a video of police arriving to take him away as he was leaving his home in Moscow to go to the train station. Volkov was detained in Nizhny Novgorod. Both were held at police stations all day and released late in the evening ahead of trials on Monday. At the police station Navalny said he was staring at a portrait of Putin, and made a video calling for supporters to come out in Nizhny Novgorod without him.
“Putin is a thief!”
The Nizhny Novgorod mayor’s office had initially given Navalny permission to hold his rally, but then tried to withdraw it in a phone call. Police ripped down the marquee the Navalny team had put up for the rally, and authorities arranged a poorly-attended festival called “Positive Nizhny” at the location where the rally was to have taken place. Navalny supporters did show up and walked around in a circle in front of the stage shouting “Putin is a thief!” Several were detained, and yesterday two were sentenced to 12 and 14 days in prison, and a third was fined 18,000 roubles.
Volkov was sent back to Moscow for his trial. Both he and Navalny were charged with calling for unauthorised rallies, although they always get permission from local authorities for their rallies. The judges in their cases refused defence lawyers’ requests to call witnesses. After being sentenced, Navalny told the media this was “some kind of present for Putin’s birthday” on October 7. He had planned to hold a rally in St. Petersburg that day, and now asks supporters to protest all over the country against “old man Putin”. Volkov said his conviction was absolutely illegal and announced that he would go on hunger strike.
Categories: Campaign diary