A day after Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny returned from Germany to Moscow, he was subject to an extraordinarily fast court hearing in which a judge ordered he be jailed for 30 days. Shortly after the decision, Navalny released a video message calling on Russians to take to the streets in protest. The 30-day detention is seen as the first step ahead of a decision that could imprison the Kremlin critic for years. “Do not be afraid,” Navalny said in the video. “Take to the streets. Don’t do it for me, do it for yourselves and for your future.” He added that “there’s nothing these thieves in their bunkers fear more than people on the streets.” Navalny’s allies said nationwide demonstrations are being prepared for Saturday.
Navalny had been detained Sunday at a Moscow airport as he returned from Germany, where he spent five months recovering after he was almost killed in a nerve agent attack. Navalny personally blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has denied any involvement. Amid increased international outcry over his detention, Navalny was quickly summoned to the court hearing Monday. His lawyers said they were only informed minutes earlier of the hearing that took place inside a police station. Most journalists were not allowed to witness the hearing, except for a couple of pro-Kremlin news outlets. Officials blamed the pandemic for the restrictions.
Navalny will now have another hearing on Feb. 2 over claims that he violated the conditions set out in a 3½-year suspended jail sentence he received in 2014. The European Court of Human Rights has characterized the embezzlement case as a political prosecution. Prosecutors say Navalny violated parole and say he should face prison time. If the court agrees, Navalny could be in prison until July 2024, which conveniently would be a few months after Russia’s next presidential election is scheduled to take place.
The Kremlin scoffed at international outcry over the detention, including from President-elect Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. “Deal with the problems in your own country,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said. Joining the chorus of criticism of Moscow was Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who is now a Russian resident. The arrest of Navalny “seems to me a repetition of mistakes made in the Soviet era,” Snowden wrote on Twitter.