Police on Saturday arrested hundreds of protesters in over 60 Russian cities, some of whom braved freezing temperatures as low as minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit to demand the release of top opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Navalny was arrested on January 17 upon his return to Moscow from Germany. He spent five months in Berlin recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning widely believed to have been perpetrated by the Kremlin.
Russian police say he had violated the parole terms of a previous suspended sentence by staying in Germany while undergoing treatment. He received the earlier suspended prison sentence and probation order in 2014 for embezzlement and money laundering, a case which the European Court of Human Rights in 2018 called politically motivated.
Authorities also recently arrested three of Navalny’s top associates, deepening tension between the Kremlin and the opposition.
Police arrested over 1,300 people in the Far East and Sibera, according to OVD-Info, an arrests-monitoring group.
In Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, thousands of people turned up to protest Navalny’s arrest, according to the Associated Press, while another 5,000 demonstrators protested in Moscow where tensions arose with police.
Helmeted riot officers grabbed some participants and forced them into police buses, according to Fox News.
Rebecca Ross, the spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Russia, criticized Russian authorities for taking steps to squelch the “right of all people to peaceful protest.
We're watching reports of protests in 38 Russian cities, arrests of 350+ peaceful protesters and journalists. The U.S. supports the right of all people to peaceful protest, freedom of expression. Steps being taken by Russian authorities are suppressing those rights.
— Rebecca Ross (@USEmbRuPress) January 23, 2021
“We’re watching reports of protests in 38 Russian cities, arrests of 350+ peaceful protesters and journalists,” she wrote in a tweet. “The U.S. supports the right of all people to peaceful protest, freedom of expression. Steps being taken by Russian authorities are suppressing those rights,” tweeted Rebecca Ross, the spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Russia.