MOSCOW • Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was jailed for 15 days and fined yesterday after staging the biggest anticorruption protests in years, an act branded a "provocation" by the Kremlin.
The United States and the European Union have voiced deep concern after Navalny and more than 1,000 others were detained in the Moscow protest on Sunday.
A Moscow district court ordered Navalny, 40, to serve 15 days in jail after finding him guilty of disobeying police orders. He was fined 20,000 roubles (S$490) for having organised an unsanctioned protest.
The lawyer turned activist, who has announced plans to run for president next year, called Sunday's protests after publishing a report accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of amassing lavish properties through a murky network of non-profit organisations. The report, posted on YouTube, has been viewed more than 12 million times.
The government, which is struggling to revive the economy after the longest recession in two decades, has denied the allegations.
"The authorities are being accused of multi-million theft, but they remain silent," Navalny said in court, insisting the protests were legal.
About 7,000 to 8,000 people demonstrated in Moscow on Sunday, according to police figures, making it one of the biggest unauthorised rallies in President Vladimir Putin's 17 years in power.
Demonstrations were also held in Russia's second city of St Petersburg and in a number of provincial cities where protests are rarely seen. They attracted a significant number of young people born after Mr Putin came to power.
The Kremlin branded the protests a "provocation", claiming minors had been promised "financial rewards" to demonstrate.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin was worried that "some people will continue using (politically) active people... to their own ends, calling them to illegal and unauthorised actions".
Most of the protesters detained on Sunday were released after being fined, while about 120 remained in custody yesterday, according to OVD-Info, a website that monitors detentions of activists.
The Russian Constitution allows public gatherings when authorised by the city authorities, but that privilege is rarely accorded to Kremlin critics.
The European Union urged Russia to release the demonstrators "without delay". US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the detention of "peaceful protesters, human rights observers and journalists is an affront to core democratic values".
The protests were reminiscent of the mass anti-government rallies that swept Russia in 2011 over vote-rigging after a parliamentary election, which snowballed into the biggest challenge against Mr Putin since he took power.
Analysts said the President's opponents could be preparing for a new wave of protests ahead of the next presidential election next March. Mr Igor Bunin, head of the Centre for Political Technologies, said the new opposition movement is driven by a young generation that "has its whole life ahead, so it is going to be much more determined and bolder".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG