Russian authorities on Wednesday increased pressure on the opposition and searched the homes and offices of detained Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny before new protests called for his release over the weekend.
Ivan Zhdanov, the head of the FBK Anti-Corruption Foundation of Navalny, said police are searching apartments linked to Navalny and the foundation’s offices for suspected violations of coronavirus restrictions.
The Russian Interior Ministry said Wednesday it had opened a criminal investigation into violations of sanitary and epidemiological measures during a Moscow protest that gathered thousands in support of Navalny on Saturday.
Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk said the rally organizers and attendees had “created a threat to the spread of the novel coronavirus infection.”
Zhdanov said on Twitter that Navalny’s wife Yulia was in one of the apartments and posted a video from the inside of loud hammering outside the door.
“You won’t let my lawyer in. You broke in my door,” Yulia Navalnaya yelled to journalists from her apartment window, an AFP journalist reported.
Her lawyer Veronika Kulikova stood in front of the apartment and told AFP that the police would not let her in, which constituted a “violation of the law”.
Investigations were conducted on the homes of several other Navalny allies, added Zhdanov.
Zhdanov published a screenshot of a surveillance camera in the FBK office showing several masked men.
The foundation is known for its research into the wealth of Russia’s political elite.
His latest report indicated that President Vladimir Putin was given an opulent estate on the Black Sea coast valued at over $ 1.5 billion.
The investigation was made public days after Navalny was arrested on his return from Germany on January 17, where he was recovering for months from nerve agent poisoning, which he accuses the Kremlin.
Attack on technology companies
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in cities across Russia on Saturday demanding the release of Navalny.
More than 3,900 people were arrested at the demonstrations, according to independent observers, while authorities opened a series of criminal investigations into the protests.
The Committee of Inquiry into Serious Crimes said Wednesday that 21 criminal cases had been launched across the country for inciting mass rioting, violence against the police and asking minors to join last Saturday’s protests.
The Ministry of the Interior launched criminal investigations in several cities because protesters “intentionally” blocked roads and stopped traffic.
The authorities also increased pressure on online platforms not to delete posts urging minors to join the unsanctioned rallies.
Protests in Russia are prohibited unless authorized by the authorities, as are calls to anyone under the age of 18 to participate in demonstrations.
Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor said on Wednesday that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube could be fined if posts encouraging minors to participate in the rallies are not deleted.
It added that the fines would range from 800,000 rubles ($ 10,520) to 4 million rubles ($ 52,760).
Also on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of the growing influence of large technology companies that “compete” with states.
The arrest of Navalny was widely condemned in the West, and the Group of Seven Countries issued a joint statement Tuesday calling for the “immediate and unconditional” release of Navalny.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called the statement on Wednesday “gross interference” in the country’s internal affairs and an “openly unfriendly move”.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)