Russia ignores demands to free protesters; Navalny gets 15 days jail


Russia is ignoring international calls – including from the Council of Europe, of which Russia is a member – to release protesters, such as opposition leader Alexei Navalny, detained at unsanctioned rallies at the weekend, the Kremlin said Monday.

“The obligations of the Council of Europe do not indicate a need to break one’s own laws,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in comments carried by state news agency¬†TASS.

Navalny’s supporters organized a series of events in 100 cities across the country on Sunday to protest against entrenched corruption they say they see throughout the government.

Police said that more than 600 people were detained at a protest in central Moscow, the largest demonstration in the Russian capital in several years. An independent monitoring group, OVD-Info, estimated that more than 1,000 were detained.

Peskov described a police clampdown on the unsanctioned rallies as “absolutely correct.” However, he also said the government would consider the protesters’ demands if they opted for sanctioned events.

Navalny, who was detained at the Moscow rally, was on Monday remanded to custody for 15 days and fined the equivalent of about 350 dollars. That rally, along a main thoroughfare, Tverskaya Street, disturbed the peace and hindered the flow of traffic, the judge said.

The Council of Europe said the detentions of the protesters raised concerns about freedom of expression and assembly. Russian authorities should release all those detained, Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland said.

The European Union and the United States also condemned the detentions. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said freedom of assembly, which is “of great importance to democracy,” was being tested in Russia.

The Moscow rally, with several thousand participants, was the city’s largest since the protest movements of 2011-13, which were fuelled by contentious elections for President Vladimir Putin, the parliament and the capital city’s mayor.

Navalny, 40, came in second in Moscow’s 2013 mayoral race and has announced intentions to run for president next year. However, a recently upheld conviction on corruption charges could preclude him from the ballot. His supporters have widely denounced the charges as trumped up.

Sunday’s detentions “prevented the exercise of basic freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, which are fundamental rights enshrined in the Russian constitution,” the EU’s External Action department said in a statement.

The US¬†State Department described the detentions as an “affront to core democratic values.”