Russian police today searched the properties of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny for evidence he breached coronavirus rules by calling for protests demanding his freedom.
Navalny, 44, was arrested on return to Russia following months of treatment for novichok poisoning in Berlin, which he maintains was an assassination attempt ordered by President Vladimir Putin.
After his imprisonment, the Kremlin dissident called on pro-democracy Russians to protest and demand his release.
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of activists poured into 70 Russian cities to support the 44-year-old’s cause.
Police reported 3,900 arrests, including Navalny’s wife Yulia, and were accused of employing ‘brutal tactics’ to ‘suppress’ the crowds, which left many demonstrators bloodied and injured.
Interior ministry officials and sources close to Navalny today confirmed his home and offices are being searched as part of a criminal probe into whether the rallies’ organisers had breached coronavirus protocol.
Policemen leave the flat of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia today. The property is occupied at present by Navalny’s wife Yulia, as her husband was jailed on return to Russia for allegedly breaching the terms of a suspended sentence
A police officer is seen outside the Moscow apartment of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny today
Police officers are seen preparing to search the offices of opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), in Moscow today
A Russian police van is parked outside of the Moscow apartment building of jailed opposition leader Navalny today. Police searched the dissident’s properties as part of a criminal probe into whether organisers of nationwide rallies on Saturday breached coronavirus restrictions
A Russian Interior Ministry spokeswoman today accused organisers of the protest of creating a ‘threat of the spread’ of coronavirus.
Ivan Zhdanov, the head of the FBK Anti-Corruption Foundation, a non-profit formed by Navalny in 2011, said on Twitter that Navalny’s wife Yulia was at one of the apartments as police were gaining entry to the home.
She posted a video from inside where loud hammering could be heard outside the door.
‘They are not letting in my lawyer. They broke my door in,’ Yulia Navalny yelled to journalists from out of her apartment window, an AFP journalist reported.
Navalny (pictured) maintains that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his assassination. The 44-year-old was admitted to a Berlin hospital in August for suspected novichok poisoning
People clash with police during a protest against Navalny’s detention, in St Petersburg, Russia on Saturday
Riot police officers detain a participant in an unauthorized rally in support of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny by the Moscow Circus
A supporter’s face is bandaged and covered in blood after attending the unauthorised rally in Moscow on Saturday
Zhdanov posted a screenshot from a security camera at the office of the foundation, showing several masked men there.
The FBK is best known for its investigations into the wealth of Russia’s political elite.
Its most recent report suggested President Vladimir Putin was gifted an opulent property on the Black Sea Coast costing over $1.5 billion.
The investigation was released days after Navalny was arrested on his return on January 17 from Germany, where he spent months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.
Russian police watch a fire during an unauthorised protest rally against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny
People climb a monument during an unauthorized rally in support of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny
Riot police officers guard the area during an unauthorized rally in support of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny
As Moscow cracks down on its critics, the Kremlin said it plans to punish social media platforms which failed to delete posts to join in Saturday’s protests.
Social media platforms, most notably popular teenage platform TikTok, were flooded with thousands of posts calling on Russians to demonstrate ahead of Saturday.
In response, Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor warned platforms they would face fines for failing to delete such posts and said that several had removed a significant number.
An injured participant reacts during an unauthorised protest rally against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny
Roskomnadzor decided today that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Youtube, would be fined between 800,000 rubles (£7,700) and four million rubles (£38,600) for failing to comply with its requirements ‘to suppress the spread of calls to minors to participate in unauthorised rallies’.
Protests in Russia are banned if they are not approved by the authorities, as are calls for people under 18 to join demonstrations.
Also on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin complained about the growing influence of large technology companies, which he said are ‘competing’ with states.
Hashtags dedicated to Navalny have been trending on TikTok, where they have garnered more than 1.5 billion views, after the anti-corruption crusader was jailed on his return to Russia from Germany.
His allies have called for a new round of demonstrations this Sunday.