Russian opposition leader Navalny appears in court over protest

Moscow (AFP) –


Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Friday appeared in court over nationwide demonstrations last week that saw hundreds arrested as they protested Vladimir Putin's inauguration for a fourth term.

Navalny faces charges of organising an illegal protest and of disobeying police orders, which could see him jailed for up to two months or forced to pay a fine.

A verdict was expected from the Moscow court on Friday, but the case was adjourned until next week for witnesses to be called.

"What happens in court really has no relation to the judgement, the judgement probably already exists... they need to observe some formal steps but it has no relation to the result," Navalny told reporters following the adjournment.

"Maybe there is an evil plan," he said.

The 41-year-old politician, who was barred from challenging Putin in March's presidential election, had called on Russians to stage rallies across the country on Saturday under the slogan "Not our Tsar".

Nearly 1,600 protesters were detained in 27 cities across Russia on Saturday, according to OVD-Info, an independent monitor that tracks arrests.

Around one in 10 of those arrested were minors, according to the organisation.

Navalny himself was grabbed by police and carried away by his arms and legs shortly after he appeared in Moscow's packed Pushkin square.

Foreign governments criticised "police brutality and mass arrests" following the demonstrations, which saw officers in several cities beat protesters with truncheons and drag them along the ground.

Navalny has faced a string of charges since he became the leading opposition figure campaigning against Putin's rule at mass demonstrations in 2011 and 2012.

He was jailed three times last year for breaking rules on organising demonstrations and had to travel to Spain for surgery after one of several street attacks left him nearly blind in one eye.

Members of his team have also faced charges and young supporters have reported coming under pressure at school or university because of their involvement in his campaigns.