Russian opposition leader Navalny sentenced to 30 days in jail, supporters appear in court over anti-Putin protests

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny sits in a police car after being found guilty by a court of repeatedly violating the law on organizing public meetings, in Moscow, Russia on June 13, 2017.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny sits in a police car after being found guilty by a court of repeatedly violating the law on organizing public meetings, in Moscow, Russia on June 13, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (Bloomberg, AFP, Reuters) - Most of the hundreds detained at Monday's (June 12) anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow were released overnight, while opposition leader Alexey Navalny was sentenced to 30 days for his role in organising the unsanctioned rally.

Of the more than 800 people detained in Moscow, at least 32 were still being held at 4am local time, according to OVD-Info, a group that provides legal aid.

Navalny, a 41-year-old lawyer whose slick use of social media has helped mobilise a new generation to protest against Russian corruption, quipped on Twitter that his sentence meant he would miss the July 15 Depeche Mode concert.

Opposition leaders Ilya Yashin and Vyacheslav Maltsev were due in court on Tuesday (June 12) for sentencing, according to their Twitter accounts.

At the Tverskoi District court in Moscow, 19-year-old Roman said he was grabbed by five riot policemen before being bundled into a van with 20 others.

"They put me in an arm lock and hit me in the stomach," said the student, who could face a fine after attending his first unauthorised rally.

Others were less lucky, with the same court sentencing three people to 10 days in jail.

Over 1,000 were detained in cities around the country at Monday's protests against official corruption, with the largest rallies reported in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The turnout, which like the last major Navalny-backed demonstrations in March was driven in part by people in their teens and twenties, suggested government interference and police pressure isn't enough to discourage attendance.

"It (is) clear that the makeup (of the protest) has changed in favour of the youth," said Ekaterina Schulmann of the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.

"Participation of the young brings new meaning to any protest. We have considered this generation... to be loyal and conformist, but it demonstrated it is ready to go to the streets."

"Everything is developing very fast and we cannot predict how it will influence the presidential elections," she told AFP.

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.

Another criminal case was launched in Saint Petersburg, where a policeman had a tooth knocked out, local news website Fontanka reported.

Navalny's sentence was reasonable because his call for protests in the centre of the capital were "counterproductive", Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Kremlin human rights council, said on Ekho Moskvy radio on Tuesday.

The number of arrests brought about a rare criticism of the Kremlin from President Donald Trump's administration, which called on Russia to "immediately release all peaceful protesters", White House spokesman Sean Spicer said at a news briefing on Monday.

Despite Trump's announced intention to improve relations when he took office, several US senators said they'd struck a bipartisan deal to expand sanctions against Russia that will be debated this week.

"These are not calls that we can heed," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in response to a question about the White House's reaction. "The actions of the authorities were taken in full compliance with the law in regard to those who engaged in provocations."

Peskov said the authorities had not acted against protesters who had agreed their actions in advance. "As for those who indulged in provocative actions, breaking the law, in this case the authorities took action against them in full compliance with our legislation," said Peskov.

He also said that Russia took a negative view of the US Senate deal on wider sanctions against Russia.

Navalny called for the unsanctioned protests in Moscow after complaining that the city government had blocked him from organising a demonstration in a less-central location.

This marks the second jail term this year for Navalny, who says he will run in Russia's March 2018 election against President Vladimir Putin.