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Marching for Navalny Defying warnings from police, demonstrators across Russia turn out to show their support for the jailed oppositionist

What’s happening: On January 18, Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny posted a video message calling on his supporters to protest against his incarceration. Days later, Navalny’s team of anti-corruption activists released a major investigative report detailing the slush funds and KGB connections that sustain a $1.5-billion seaside palace that allegedly belongs to President Putin. Nationwide rallies demanding Navalny’s freedom are planned for Saturday, January 23, and the biggest turnout will likely be in Moscow, where a demonstration is scheduled to begin at Pushkin Square around 2:00 p.m., local time (6:00 a.m., EST).

Will the authorities allow Navalny’s supporters to assemble? Virtually no one marching for Navalny on Saturday will have a permit. In St. Petersburg, activists didn’t even bother with an application. Local statutes in many cities actually make it impossible to get official permission for any protest within 10 days of the event. Law enforcement officers across the country were busy all week executing “preventative measures” (arrests and harassment) against demonstration organizers, and Russia’s state censor successfully pressured multiple major social networks into removing large amounts of content promoting Saturday’s demonstrations (though new posts continue to flood in). At the time of this writing, it’s still unclear how many protesters will be arrested.

Where can I watch? Live streams are available from Navalny Live, Dozhd, and Current Time. Also — in English! — watch here.

That’s a wrap for Meduza’s live blog coverage of the opposition protests across Russia today. We’ll be back soon with more detailed reporting on the demonstrations and the official response — stay tuned!

10:00 p.m. Moscow time (2:00 p.m., EST) — here’s how the day ended

As of late Saturday night, approximately 2,500 people had been arrested countrywide. For more details, check out this map of the detentions from Meduza and OVD-Info.

As of 9:15 p.m. Moscow time, the area around the Matrosskaya Tishina prison — where opposition figure Alexey Navalny is jailed — appeared to be the last place where protesters were still gathering. Police continued to make violent attempts to disperse the remaining demonstrators, resulting in clashes and ending with more arrests.

Earlier in the day, Reuters estimated that 40,000 people attended the protest in Moscow, though local media and activists are reporting that 20,000 people were present during the demonstration’s peak. Either way, that’s far more than the 4,000 demonstrators reported by Moscow officials. 

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

Law enforcement officers continuing to look for protesters and make arrests near Matrosskaya Tishina prison (video posted by MBX Media around 9:40 p.m., Moscow time).

The arrest count across Russia has reached 2,500 people.

Clashes between protesters and riot police officers near Matrosskaya Tishina.

Meduza’s correspondent says that law enforcement officers and riot police are trying to push the remaining demonstrators away from the prison and towards Stromynka Street, where there are units detaining protesters.

All underage protesters detained during the rally in Moscow today have been released from police custody, a member of the city’s Public Monitoring Commission told TASS.

According to estimates from Dozhd and MBX Media correspondents, an additional 15 to 20 people have been arrested near Matrosskaya Tishina.

The area around Matrosskaya Tishina prison appears to be the last place where protesters are actively gathering and where clashes with the police are continuing to take place.

The latest figures from OVD-Info: 2,338 arrests across Russia, including 912 in Moscow and 338 in St. Petersburg.

Police are violently arresting and beating protesters about 200 meters from the Matrosskaya Tishina prison. According to Dozhd’s correspondent, two young people (including one girl) were “very badly” beaten.

A group of several dozen protesters are trying to break through to the prison, but the police are violently dispersing the crowd, confirms Meduza’s correspondent.

A new group of protesters has arrived on the scene not far from the Matrosskaya Tishina prison; they’re making calls to go to the detention center. According to Meduza’s correspondent, they’re chanting “Putin is a thief!” and “Freedom for Navalny!”

Presidential Human Rights Council head Valery Fadeyev has released the following statement on the council’s website:

These protests are illegal. Not only are they unauthorized, but they are taking place during an epidemic. Of course, we have to talk about the illegality of the protests, and not about the arrests. I don’t see any violations at all. What are these, our first arrests? This isn’t the first unauthorized rally. Usually this ends with the drawing up of an act for an administrative offense and a release. I’m sure that now, so long as there weren’t any provocations or clashes with the police, the exact same thing will happen.

Fadeyev also condemned the “involvement of minors” in the protests:

A disgusting story. This demands investigation. Because the scale of the campaign on TikTik, [which was] primarily calling on minors to come out to these protests, is very serious. Internet experts say that launching such a campaign requires significant money or help from the platform [itself], it’s a very serious operation.

Lyubov Sobol has released a video from inside the court where she was taken following her arrest earlier today.

Meduza’s correspondent remains inside the police cordon near the Matrosskaya Tishina prison. He also confirms that there are no longer any protesters near the prison itself. Police are asking journalists to leave the area.

There are no longer any protesters near Matrosskaya Tishina. According to Dozhd’s correspondent, riot police have dispersed all of the demonstrators.

The head of Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, says that he hasn’t observed any violations during the arrests carried out at today’s unauthorized protests, reports TASS.

OVD-INFO — 2,254 people have been detained across Russia.

The “White Counter” project counted 15,000 people at the height of today’s protest in Moscow and more than 20,000 are believed to have taken part in the rally throughout the day, reports the project’s coordinator, Dmitry Nesterov. This is the highest number of protesters to join an unauthorized rally in Moscow since at least 2013, he says.

Police officers arresting more protesters near Matrosskaya Tishina.

Meduza’s correspondent says that there’s still about 200 demonstrators in the area.

Law enforcement in St. Petersburg topped the list for arresting the most journalists today, detaining 16 members of the press, reports the independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers.

Journalists were detained in at least 17 cities: St. Petersburg, Khabarovsk, Moscow, Makhachkala, Pskov, Stavropol, Kursk, Samara, Ufa, Voronezh, Novosibirsk, Vladivostok, Kazan, Blagoveshchensk, Krasnoyarsk, Cheboksary, and Yaroslavl.

The journalists’ union and OVD-Info have also recorded 52 separate incidents of journalists being prevented from doing their jobs.

At least 18 people have been arrested near the Matrosskaya Tishina prison, reports OVD-Info.

Police presence around Matrosskaya Tishina
Photo Credit: Dmitry Serebryakov for “The Bell”

The gates of the Matrosskaya Tishina prison have been blocked off with a truck.

Happening now near the Matrosskaya Tishina prison

Meduza

Police reinforcements have arrived near Matrosskaya Tishina. One police van carrying detainees has already left the scene, reports Meduza’s correspondent. Police officers are pushing the crowd away from the prison itself.

An update from Meduza’s correspondent

At least 200 protesters have gathered near Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison. There are far fewer police officers on hand — no more than 40. Nevertheless, they are carrying out harsh detentions and trying to disperse the crowd.

More protesters are still arriving; a small group just got off a nearby tram and are moving towards the prison.

Someone has also set off a smoke bomb in the vicinity.

More than 600 people have been detained in Moscow, reports the city’s Public Monitoring Commission.

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