MOSCOW — Russia’s federal media regulator has ordered media outlets, including RFE/RL’s Russian Service and Current Time TV, to delete all reports about a planned mobile-phone “flashlight” protest against the jailing of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.
The official order from Roskomnadzor was received by media groups on February 12. It says Russian authorities consider any reporting about the planned flashlight protest to be a call for people to take part in an unsanctioned public demonstration and mass disorder.
Roskomnadzor’s order also was sent to online newspapers Meduza and Open Media, and the TV-2 news agency in the Siberian city of Tomsk.
Navalny’s team in Tomsk said they also were warned by the city prosecutor’s office on February 12 that they could be held liable for staging an unsanctioned protest.
Navalny’s team has called on people across Russia to switch on their mobile-phone flashlights for 15 minutes beginning at 8 p.m. on February 14 — shining the light into the sky from courtyards and posting pictures of the protest on social media.
Leonid Volkov, director of Navalny’s network of teams across Russia, announced the change of tactics on February 9 in response to police crackdowns against mass street demonstrations that have led to tens of thousands of arrests across Russia.
The “flashlight” protest is a tactic similar to what demonstrators have been doing in neighboring Belarus following brutal police crackdowns targeting rallies against authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Volkov says it is a nonviolent way for Russians to show the extent of outrage across the country over Navalny’s treatment without subjecting themselves to arrests and police abuse.
The 44-year-old Navalny, a staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was arrested on January 17 after returning to Russia from Germany where he had been treated for a nerve-agent poisoning he says was ordered by Putin. The Kremlin denies it had any role in the poison attack against Navalny.
Navalny’s detention sparked outrage across the country and much of the West, with tens of thousands of Russians taking part in street rallies on January 23 and 31.
Police cracked down harshly on the demonstrations, putting many of Navalny’s political allies behind bars and detaining thousands more — sometimes violently — as they gathered on the streets.
A Russian court on February 2 ruled Navalny was guilty of violating the terms of his suspended sentence relating 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 Navalny must serve another 2 years and 8 months behind bars.
That prompted fresh street protests across the country. But Volkov called for a pause in street rallies until the spring — saying weekly demonstrations would only result in more mass arrests.
Authorities have criticized Volkov’s call for flashlight protests.
Kremlin-friendly political observer Aleksei Martynov accused Navalny’s team of stealing the idea from commemorations of Soviet war veterans.