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200 Protestors Detained Near Moscow’s Court

The Russian Police detain more than 200 people near the Moscow court deciding whether Putin’s critic Alexei Navalny should be jailed. Many riot police, are deployed outside the Moscow court where there is a hearing to decide whether to convert Alexei Navalny’s suspended sentence into prison term up to three and a half years. This case has sparked a nationwide series of protests while Mr Navalny claims that his conviction of embezzlement is fabricated.

According to the OVD-Info group report, a Russian monitoring group that documents police activities, more than 5,000 people at pro-Navalny protests across 86 cities were detained by the police. For the second round of protests, people were ready to defy the bitter cold and riot police’s massive deployment.

On 17 January after Mr Navalny’s return to Russia, there were mass protests by young Russians supporting him. Mr Navalny has been accused of breaking the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement that required him to report regularly to Russian police. According to his lawyers, the accusation is absurd as the authorities were aware that he was in Berlin recovering after a fatal nerve agent attack.

On Tuesday, addressing the court, Mr Navalny said: “I fell into a coma, then came round, left the hospital, contacted my lawyer and sent you a document stating where I was… Of course, I wasn’t at home! What more could I do?”

Earlier on Mr Navalny is serving a 30-day sentence linked to the embezzlement case, which in his words is politically motivated. He spent around five months in Berlin recovering from the Novichok poisoning attack he blames directly on President Putin. On the other hand, the Kremlin denies any involvement and disputes the expert conclusion of the usage of Novichok. In the last couple of days, police have arrested many of Mr Navalny’s top aides, who assist him in his Anti-Corruption Network (FBK).

Mr Navalny accuses Mr Putin of running a severely corrupt administration. He even released a YouTube video where he alleged that the Black Sea Palace, was a gift to the President from Russian billionaires. The video has 100+ million views. On Saturday a billionaire businessman close to Mr Putin, Arkady Rotenberg, said that he bought it two years ago. On Sunday some protestors also displayed gold-coloured toilet brushes, to symbolize their outrage about the palace.

Western diplomats from the EU are also attending the hearing. The EU condemns the mass arrests of Navalny supporters and Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, is scheduled to visit Moscow for official talks on Thursday. Commenting on the court hearing, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We hope that such nonsense as linking the prospects of Russia-EU relations with the resident of a detention centre will not happen”.