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Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Monday urged Russians to take to the streets in protest after a judge held him in pre-trial detention for 30 days despite calls from Western countries to release the opposition politician.
The UN and Western countries had asked Moscow before the ruling to release Navalny, and some countries have called for new sanctions on Russia, which on Monday told them to meddle in their own business.
The decision to keep him in custody for violating the conditions of a suspended jail term and parole, a day after he flew to Russia for the first time since he was poisoned with a toxic agent last summer, could be the prelude to an incarceration of several years.
Moscow’s prison service has asked to convert the three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence for embezzlement – which it says is a hoax – into real time in jail early next month. He also faces three other different criminal cases.
When Navalny was led out of a police station, he told his followers that the only thing they had to fear was their own fear.
“Don’t be afraid, go out on the street. Don’t go out for me, go out for yourself and your future,” Navalny said in a video posted on Twitter.
His supporters plan to rally across the country this Saturday, and a request has been submitted to Moscow authorities for a rally of 10,000 people later this month.
More than 70 Navalny supporters and journalists were detained across Russia on Monday, the observation group OVD-Info reported.
Navalny, 44, called the treatment illegal and accused President Vladimir Putin of throwing the criminal code out the window out of fear.
The Kremlin did not respond to questions from Reuters on the matter, but has previously said that Navalny must face justice if he has committed any crime.
About 200 Navalny supporters had gathered outside the police station in freezing temperatures.
When they learned of the decision to keep him in police custody, they began to sing, “Shame!” and “Putin resigns!”
Four masked policemen stopped Navalny at passport control on Sunday afternoon as he was returning to Russia after being treated in Germany for poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok – according to German army evidence – a version of events that he Kremlin rejects.
IMPOSITION OF SANCTIONS
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia said they wanted European Union foreign ministers to discuss sanctions against Russia on Monday for detaining Navalny, whose foundation specializes in investigations into alleged administrative corruption.
Some of those investigated by the foundation have taken legal action and some critics have reproached Navalny in the past for allegedly adopting excessively nationalistic views, something he rejects.
A Navalny ally published a list of eight businessmen, bankers, government ministers and a state-backed journalist who, according to Navalny, should be subject to sanctions from the West.
Another possible target of the eventual sanctions would be Nord Stream 2, a $ 11.6 billion project to build a natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. Germany has supported the project, saying it is a commercial company, and Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for its government, said on Monday that had not changed.
The foreign ministers of Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy had previously called for Navalny’s release, as had the United Nations human rights office. Jake Sullivan, one of President-elect Joe Biden‘s top aides, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have criticized the arrest.
The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the criticism
“Respect international law, do not invade the national legislation of sovereign states and address the problems of your own country,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the expressions of outrage from Western countries were aimed at distracting the attention of their citizens from internal problems and that Moscow was unaffected by the possible damage to its image.
“We should probably think about our image, but we are not young girls going to a dance,” Lavrov told reporters.
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