Putin critic Navalny sentenced to jail in police crackdown on opposition members
Russian police raided the homes of several opposition politicians on Wednesday soon after top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was sentenced to 30 days in jail, in an apparent bid by authorities to crush a new wave of protest.
The latest crackdown on Russia's opposition politicians comes as they fight to get on the ballot for the Moscow parliament elections in September amid falling approval ratings for President Vladimir Putin.
More than 22,000 people crowded a Moscow square on Saturday, the largest such demonstration in years, as anger grows over authorities' refusal to put popular independent candidates on the ballot.
Navalny has called for an even bigger rally, near the Moscow mayor's office, on July 27 if the authorities do not register the opposition candidates.
The opposition said the authorities launched a new crackdown to thwart those plans.
On Wednesday night, police raided the homes of Dmitry Gudkov and Ivan Zhdanov, Navalny's allies and independent would-be candidates who were banned from running in the September election, on what they say are spurious grounds.
Gudkov's father and former lawmaker, Gennady Gudkov, said about 10 people searched his son's apartment and wanted to take him in for questioning.
"Bastards," he said in a barrage of emotional messages on Twitter, adding that an investigator also wanted to question him in the morning.
"After Gudkov investigators came to search Ivan Zhdanov's place. At night which directly violates the law," Ilya Yashin, a prominent opposition politician and fellow would-be candidate, said on Twitter.
The night-time raids were linked to a new criminal case into obstructing the work of election officials after Navalny's allies and ordinary Muscovites staged a series of pickets and rallies outside the offices of the Moscow election commission and elsewhere in recent days.
For that offence organisers could face up to five years in prison.
Investigators said earlier Wednesday they would "question the organisers and participants of unauthorised rallies and pickets".
The protests involved "threats to use violence against members of the electoral commissions", the Investigative Committee said.
Earlier Wednesday, a court sentenced Navalny to 30 days in jail for calls to stage an unauthorised rally.
A coordinator from Navalny's Moscow headquarters, Oleg Stepanov, was also detained and sentenced to eight days in jail.
Navalny was detained Wednesday as he was leaving his Moscow home to go jogging and buy flowers for his wife's birthday.
"People are right when they say that sport is not always good for your health," the 43-year-old quipped.
This month Navalny has already served a 10-day jail sentence for violating a protest law.
The opposition politicians say they were made to jump through countless hoops to get on the ballot, and each had to collect roughly 5,000 signatures to be eligible.
But electoral authorities still refused to register the representatives of the opposition, accusing them of faking some of the signatures.
On Tuesday, the disqualified politicians met the country's election chief, Ella Pamfilova, who admitted that the situation was "unfair".
The talks however led nowhere, the opposition said.
'City Hall is afraid'
Saturday's rally in Moscow was the largest such demonstration since 2012, when tens of thousands protested election fraud during parliamentary polls.
Yashin, who is a local councillor, expressed hope that Navalny's arrest would further mobilise people.
"Just think about it: a mere demand to put representatives of the opposition on the ballot papers triggers a use of force scenario," Yashin said on Facebook.
Another independent would-be candidate, Konstantin Jankauskas, said the crackdown was an attempt to discourage people from attending the new rally on Saturday.
"It means City Hall is afraid that a lot of people would turn up," he said on Twitter.
Political commentator Alexander Kynev said the authorities want to nip in the bud the new protest wave.
"If this does not help and a lot of people turn up on Saturday then they'll think what to do next," he told AFP.