Tens of thousands of Russian citizens in more than 120 cities and towns from Saint Petersburg and Moscow in the west to Irkutsk and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in the East, turned out on the weekend of January 23 to peacefully protest the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and to demand his release.
Navalny, a lawyer and anti-corruption activist, was detained on January 17th. He was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetevo Airport upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he was recovering from an attempt to assassinate him by a nerve agent. The arrest, which was streamed live in Russia by independent journalists, resulted in the biggest unauthorized protests of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tenure.
“The U.S. supports the right of all people to peaceful protest, freedom of expression,” tweeted Rebecca Ross, spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. “Steps being taken by Russian authorities are suppressing those rights.”
Police response was at first relatively muted, but as the crowds of protestors grew and refused to disperse, the heavily armored riot police began to randomly pull people out of the crowd, arrest them and drag them off. Across the country, well over 3,700 people were detained.
“Continued efforts to suppress Russians’ rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, the arrest of opposition figure Aleksey Navalny, and the crackdown on protests that followed are troubling indications of further restrictions on civil society and fundamental freedoms,” said U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price.
“Russians’ rights to peaceful assembly and to participate in free and fair elections are enshrined not only in the country’s constitution, but also in Russia’s OSCE commitments, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in its international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“[The United States calls] on Russian authorities to release all those detained for exercising their universal rights and for the immediate and unconditional release of Aleksey Navalny. We urge Russia to fully cooperate with the international community’s investigation into the poisoning of Aleksey Navalny and credibly explain the use of a chemical weapon on its soil,” said Spokesperson Price.
“The United States will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and partners in defense of human rights – whether in Russia or wherever they come under threat.”