The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized 10 associates and supporters of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny as political prisoners.
In a February 8 statement, Memorial said it had recognized as political prisoners the individuals detained on the eve of unsanctioned mass rallies against Navalny’s arrest in late-January and charged with publicly calling for the violation of sanitary and epidemiological safety precautions.
The 10 include, Navalny’s brother Oleg Navalny, Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, municipal lawyers Dmitry Baranovsky, Konstantin Yanauskas, and Lyusya Shtein, the chief of the Physicians’ Alliance NGO Anastasia Vasilyeva, a leading member of the Pussy Riot protest group, Maria Alyokhina, a coordinator of Navalny’s team in Moscow, Oleg Stepanov, Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, and an activist Nikolai Lyaskin.
The majority of these people were placed under house arrest. If found guilty of the charges, each person faces up to two years in prison.
“The persecution of protesters on the grounds of violating sanitary and epidemiological restrictions looks especially cynical while thousands of peaceful demonstrators are being detained and transported in tightly filled police vehicles and kept in police stations in conditions that even further expedite the spread of the illness,” Memorial said in its statement.
A day earlier, more than 100 Russian actors, directors, writers, musicians, poets, and scholars issued an open letter addressed to the nation, authorities, and political parties, to protest against the violent crackdown on the rallies and calling the persecution of the demonstrators “a real shame for Russia’s judicial system.”
The letter does not mention Navalny’s name, but among other issues, the text mentions his persecution and the mass arrests of his supporters in recent weeks.
“We call on the goodwill of the people, all our fellow citizens, to join the condemnation of violence against political opponents, to raise their voices to defend civil peace, democracy, and a decent life, and [we call on] representatives of the authorities to return to the boundaries of constitutional law and order,” the letter says.
Navalny, 44, was arrested on January 17 after returning to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a nerve-agent poisoning that he says was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which the Kremlin has denied.
More than 10,000 people were rounded up by police during nationwide rallies protesting Navalny’s arrest in more than 100 Russian towns and cities on January 23 and January 31.
On February 2, Navalny was found guilty of violating the terms of a suspended sentence connected to an embezzlement case that he has called politically motivated. The court converted the sentence to 3 1/2 years in prison. Given credit for time already spent in detention, the court said the Kremlin critic would have to serve 2 years and 8 months behind bars.
The court’s ruling caused new mass protests across the country that were also violently dispersed by police. More than 1,400 people were detained by police in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities on that day.