Kremlin critics say authorities are stepping up pressure on the opposition to quell dissent ahead of Sunday’s nationwide rally.
The brother and aides of jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny were under house arrest ahead of new scheduled rallies where Russian authorities warned protesters could be charged with participating in “mass unrest”.
Critics of the Kremlin say authorities are dramatically stepping up pressure on the Russian opposition in a bid to intimidate protesters and quell dissent ahead of new national rallies scheduled for Sunday.
Navalny’s brother Oleg, prominent aide Lyubov Sobol and Pussy Riot activist Maria Alyokhina have been placed under house arrest until March 23 for allegedly violating restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic by calling on people to join to demonstrations.
The coordinator of Navalny’s Moscow office, Oleg Stepanov, and Anastasia Vasilyeva, the head of the medical workers’ union criticizing the government, were also under house arrest for two months.
Navalny’s brother was released from prison in 2018 after three and a half years behind bars on an embezzlement conviction, according to Kremlin critics, on political grounds.
Pressure on Navalny’s family and associates increased after tens of thousands of Russians rallied last weekend to support President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken national critic, who survived near-fatal poisoning with a nerve agent.
Navalny’s team called for further protests, suggesting that Moscow residents gather on Sunday in Lubyanka Square in front of the FSB security agency headquarters and in Staraya Square, where the presidential administration has its offices.
More than 4,000 protesters were arrested across the country over the weekend and authorities have launched a number of criminal investigations.
Several Navalny associates, including Sobol, were arrested following police raids on their apartments and offices this week.
Moscow eased coronavirus restrictions earlier this week, allowing bars and restaurants to stay open all night and offices to be fully staffed, citing a sharp drop in infections.
However, city officials have refrained from lifting the ban on mass gatherings.
The Russian Investigative Committee, which is investigating major crimes, also announced on Friday that Leonid Volkov, head of Navalny’s regional network based in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, was wanted for calling on minors to join rallies not authorized.
In a jail post on Thursday, Navalny urged the Russians to hold more rallies.
“The majority are on our side. Let’s wake them up, ”he wrote from Matrosskaya Tishina, a high security detention center.
Police arrested the 44-year-old anti-transplant activist at a Moscow airport after returning to Russia on January 17 from Germany, where he was recovering from near-fatal poisoning with Novichok, a nerve-conception toxin Soviet.
A makeshift court at a police station last week ordered Navalny to take Navalny into custody until February 15.
On Thursday, a court dismissed his lawyers’ appeal to release him from detention ahead of a high-profile trial scheduled to start on Tuesday.
He faces charges of violating the terms of a 2014 conditional sentence and could be jailed for two and a half years.
Many protesters say they are irritated by Navalny’s imprisonment after the assassination attempt he attributes to the FSB’s domestic intelligence service.
Others were angered by the findings of Navalny’s investigative report claiming that an opulent palace had been built for Putin on the Black Sea coast.