Russia: Navalny hearing begins, dozens arrested outside court

Russia: Navalny hearing begins, dozens arrested outside court”

Tens of thousands have joined protests nationwide since Navalny was detained in mid-January as he returned to Russian Federation from Germany, where he recovered from a near-fatal nerve-agent attack that he and Western governments blamed on Putin's security service.

Navalny's team called for a demonstration outside the Moscow court building but police were out in force near the building, cordoning off the nearby streets and making random arrests.

"As for the Navalny case, no information has been provided to us to prove accusations against the Russian authorities", Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday.

Arsen Bilalov, a 42-year-old teacher, had traveled nearly 2,000 kilometers from his hometown of Makhachkala in the southern Russian republic of Dagestan, where he had already been briefly detained for protesting on January 23.

One young protester told DW: "I believe that people should be free to their opinion and that Navalny should be free".

Russia may consider returning to an global pact allowing surveillance flights over military facilities if the United States reverses its exit, the top Russian diplomat said Tuesday. There is global consensus that Russian security forces were behind the poisoning, though the Kremlin vehemently denies the allegations. Police flooded the centres of both cities. The Russian court handed Navalny a 3.5 year suspended sentence with a 5-year probation period. "They can't put millions and hundreds of thousands in jail". A major test will come when Russian Federation holds parliamentary elections in September. In the meantime, Navalny will remain jailed. After he was detained again, his team released a new film unveiling the staggering luxury of a secret palace allegedly built by Putin on the Black Sea. It has been viewed over 100 million times, fueling discontent as ordinary Russians struggle with an economic downturn, the coronavirus and widespread corruption during Putin's years in office.

Pro-Kremlin media have since been allowed to tour the palace and a childhood friend and former judo sparring partner of Putin, the oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, over the weekend appeared in a report claiming he owned the building and meant to turn it into an apartment hotel.

As part of efforts to squelch the protests, authorities have targeted Navalny's associates and activists across the country.

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The jailing of Navalny and the crackdown on protests have stoked worldwide outrage.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NBC News that he was "deeply disturbed by the violent crackdown" and said Russians are frustrated with "corruption" and "autocracy".

Russian Federation has dismissed the criticism as meddling in its domestic affairs and said Navalny's current situation is a procedural matter for the court, not an issue for the government.

"A Russian citizen sentenced by Russian court in accordance with Russian laws".

Yevgeniya, a 27-year-old illustrator who declined to give her last name, said she had got up at the crack of dawn to be there. "Recent events show that there are a lot of things for you to mend!", Russia's deputy United Nations ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, said on Twitter.

More than a dozen Western diplomats also attended Tuesday's hearing - which was open to the media but closed to film crews and photographers In a Facebook statement, Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova slammed their presence as an attempt at interfering with Russia's domestic affairs.

Jim Heintz in Moscow and Jill Lawless in London contributed.

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