Navalny supporters face court after Russian protests


Moscow (AFP)

Russian opposition demonstrators faced court on Tuesday after nationwide anti-corruption protests called by leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who was slapped with a 30-day jail sentence.

Over 1,500 people were detained at Monday's demonstrations, mainly in the capital Moscow and Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg, and several criminal probes into police violence were launched.

Police stations overflowed with detainees and many people still awaited processing while others were shuttled to court for hearings over violating demonstration regulations that could lead to 15 days of jail time.

"We've left the station. They are taking us to Tverskoy district court," opposition activist Ilya Yashin tweeted Tuesday. He was one of over 800 people detained in Moscow after the protest on Tverskaya Street, the main thoroughfare to the Kremlin.

The protest in the capital was originally authorised in a different location but Navalny unexpectedly cancelled it on Sunday, saying that the authorities were blocking efforts to hire a stage and sound equipment, calling on supporters to go to Tverskaya Street instead.

He himself never made it to the protest however as police awaited him in the stairwell of his building and hauled him off to a police station before the rally had even begun.

The 41-year-old protest leader has announced his intent to run for president against Vladimir Putin and has been campaigning relentlessly around Russia while also mounting strong online presence via YouTube videos, attracting a younger generation.

Tverskaya Street on the same day hosted a festival of historical reconstruction organised by city hall for the Russia Day public holiday, resulting in surreal scenes with protesters shouting slogans as people in period costumes held bouts of sword fighting.

Authorities condemned the protest as a "provocation," and riot police broke through the crowd of protesters, grabbing people and putting them in buses.

On Tuesday, the powerful Investigative Committee said one protester "sprayed tear gas into the eyes of a riot police officer who was carrying out his duties during the unsanctioned rally" and would be charged.

- 'No illusions' -

The protests, which involved cities from far-eastern Vladivostok to the Black Sea resort of Sochi and Norilsk beyond the Arctic Circle, follow a previous unsanctioned rally called by Navalny on March 26 that provoked a similar police reaction.

The rallies are the largest to be held Russia-wide since a wave of street actions protesting against Putin's reelection to a third Kremlin term in 2011-12, after which the Kremlin initiated a series of repressive laws criminalising unsanctioned gatherings.

They also follow a film made by Navalny's team that accuses Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of amassing vast personal wealth controlled through a network of shadowy foundations, which has been viewed over 22 million times on YouTube.

"The current protests are more politicised and personalised than the events of 2011-12," the independent business daily Vedomosti said in an editorial.

"Then it was a movement of large cities' middle class which wanted to change political trends through mass legal rallies... The current protesters... have no illusions about the possibility of dialogue with the authorities."

Russian state television made no mention of the protests or the arrests.

The large-scale arrests drew condemnation from Washington, Brussels and several human rights organisations, who called on protesters to be released.

"The Russian people deserve a government that supports an open marketplace of ideas," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

Amnesty International said that "a crackdown on peaceful protests in which hundreds of people were arrested and numerous others beaten by police demonstrates the authorities' utter contempt for fundamental human rights."