After serving a 25-day prison sentence, Russian anti-corruption activist and opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been released from detainment this week. Navalny was initially arrested and sentenced to a 30-day jail term on June 12th after inciting anti-Kremlin and anti-corruption protests which took place in over 100 cities – including the capital Moscow – across the country.
The organization of such public protests or congregations are unsanctioned and therefore are considered a violation of Russian law. Up to 2000 of Navalny’s supporters were also arrested as a result of participation in these rallies last month.
According to the Associated Press, Navalny seemed to be undeterred despite his time in jail telling supporters at the headquarters of his organization Fund for Fighting Corruption “we will, of course, not bend under any pressure.” Navalny still appears to be focused on running in the Russian presidential election which is set to be held in May of next year.
Despite his release this week, the level of corruption and a continued lack of robust free political expression – which has been central to Navalny’s critique of the Kremlin – appears to persist in Russia. On June the 6th Russian investigators and police personnel raided the Moscow election offices of the opposition leader, allegedly confiscating pre-election campaign materials. Such raids have also reportedly been taking place in Navalny’s election offices in other parts of Russia according to Lenoid Volkov, a Navalny supporter who spoke to Reuters. Additionally Radio Free Europe, a journalism organization that advocates for and provides uncensored news media in states that have a non-existent or poorly-established free press, also reported that dozens of Navalny supporters were arrested in Moscow earlier this month after campaigning in line with Navalny’s 2018 election bid.
Navalny’s most recent stint in prison is not the first time he has been jailed in relation to political protests. The vocal opposition leader, often referred to as a “thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin’s presidency” according to a report by Al Jazeera, was detained in prison for 15 days earlier in the year after inciting anti-corruption protests in March. The recent anti-government protests of this year, which are largely associated with Navalny, are regarded as the most prominent display of public defiance against the Kremlin since anti-government rallies held years earlier in 2011 and 2012.
Navalny has also been at the centre of a fraud case and is being charged with embezzlement by the court of the city of Kirov and facing a five-year suspended jail sentence as well as a fine. Subsequently, this has seen Russia’s Central Election Commission banning him from contesting the election due to the conviction, in line with Russian law which prevents individuals from running for office for a decade if they have been found guilty of committing a serious crime. Commentators and supporters of Navalny affirm that the embezzlement ordeal is a politically-motivated move, set up as a way of removing the potential threat Navalny and his supporters could pose given the May 2018 election is looming ever-closer.
Both the detainment of Navalny himself, and the pressure being put on his supporters and campaigners pose a considerable challenge to political freedoms and supports the tendency for corruption that characterizes the Russian political system. The tension surrounding Russia’s political sphere is only set to heighten as the 2018 election, one which incumbent Vladimir Putin is widely expected to be successful in, draws closer.
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