by Sarah Hurst
Alexei Navalny announced that he would run for president of Russia on December 13, 2016. On February 8, 2017 a judge in Kirov found Navalny guilty of embezzlement and gave him a five-year suspended sentence, which meant that he would be ineligible to participate in the election. The entire show trial was a repeat of a trial that took place in 2013, in which the verdict was identical, word for word. That trial was condemned as unjust by the European Court of Human Rights.
Nevertheless, Navalny continued his campaign, travelling around the country opening headquarters in dozens of cities. He was greeted by crowds of supporters and also opponents, including on one occasion some angry Cossacks. Twice attackers threw green chemicals into his face: in Barnaul and in Moscow. The first attack caused no serious harm, but the second one damaged Navalny’s eyes and he had to fly to Spain for an operation. The attacker was identified by social media users as Alexander Petrunko of the pro-Putin SERB movement, but he was not arrested.
Metal pipe assault
Navalny held his first election rally in Murmansk on September 15, 2017. He spoke to a large crowd and the rally took place without incident. But in Moscow the head of Navalny’s campaign headquarters, Nikolai Lyaskin, was hit on the head with a metal pipe wrapped in newspaper as the rally was ending. Again, no one was arrested, but later the police told Lyaskin that they suspected that he had organised the attack himself as a “provocation”. A couple of months later Lyaskin quietly resigned as head of the Moscow headquarters.
Navalny’s next rallies were in Yekaterinburg and Omsk, then Novosibirsk, Vladivostok and Khabarovsk the following weekend. On September 29 Navalny was detained coming out of his home as he was heading to Nizhny Novgorod for a rally. He was held at a police station until late at night, and instead of a rally some of his supporters in Nizhny Novgorod turned out to walk around in protest during a “Positive Nizhny” festival that had been hastily set up by the local authorities. Many of them were detained.
Navalny was released with an instruction to appear in court on October 2, but meanwhile he held two more rallies in Orenburg and Arkhangelsk on September 30 and October 1. Authorities didn’t bother to stop him. The following day he and his campaign chief, Leonid Volkov, were both sentenced to 20 days in prison. While in prison Navalny called for mass demonstrations on October 7, Putin’s birthday. After his release on October 22 he continued to hold rallies all over Russia and to demand that he be allowed to participate in the election. Navalny has asked people to boycott the election if he is not on the ballot. Russian authorities have said that calling for a boycott is equivalent to calling for the overthrow of the government.