FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia Navalnaya Photograph:( Reuters )
The OVD-Info monitoring group said 1,090 people were detained at protests in dozens of Russian cities as thousands of supporters of Navalny took to the streets following his call to protest against President Vladimir Putin's rule.
Russian police briefly detained Yulia Navalnaya, the wife of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, at a protest in Moscow on Saturday, she wrote on her Instagram from inside a police van. She was later released.
Navalny's wife was one of the many people that the police detained Saturday at rallies across Russia in his support following his call to protest against President Vladimir Putin's rule.
The OVD-Info monitoring group said, earlier in the day, that 1,090 people were detained at protests in dozens of Russian cities. A few media reports said the count was to the tune of 2,000.
Police also detained Lyubov Sobol, a close ally of Navalny's, at the rally. He later said the opposition would hold more protests next weekend to demand Navalny's release.
Yulia wrote on her Instagram in Russian -- which meant: "Sorry for the poor quality. Very bad light in the paddy wagon" -- with an accompanying photo.
In the Russian capital, which usually mobilises the largest rallies, protesters planned to meet on the central Pushkin Square at 2:00 pm (1100 GMT) and march towards the Kremlin. But more than an hour before the planned rally police began detaining people.
Putin's fiercest critic put out the mass rally call after surviving a near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent and returning to Moscow last weekend following months of treatment in Germany. He was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport and jailed.
Protests were held early Saturday in the Far East, Siberia and the Urals including Khabarovsk, Novosibirsk and Chita where several thousand turned out, Navalny supporters said.
Saturday's rallies are expected to be a major test of the opposition's ability to mobilise despite increasing Kremlin pressure on critics and the coronavirus pandemic.
Ahead of the demonstrations, Navalny's team released a video investigation into an opulent Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin who has been in power for 20 years. The two-hour report has been viewed more than 66 million times.
In Vladivostok, demonstrators gathered in the city centre, chanting "Putin is a thief" and "Freedom to Navalny!"
Navalny, who is being held in Moscow's high-security Matrosskaya Tishina jail, thanked his supporters on the eve of the rallies.
"I know perfectly well that there are lots of good people outside of my prison's walls and help will come," he said Friday.
Navalny's wife Yulia said she would join the Moscow protest, "For myself, for him, for our children, for the values and the ideals that we share".
Ahead of the demonstrations several key Navalny aides including his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh were taken into police custody for violating protest laws and handed short jail sentences.
The Investigative Committee on Friday launched a criminal probe into the calls for unauthorised protests.
A hastily organised court on Monday jailed Navalny for 30 days, and his supporters fear that authorities are preparing to sentence him to a long prison term to silence him.
Navalny, 44, rose to prominence a decade ago and has become the central figure of Russia's opposition movement, leading large-scale street protests against corruption and electoral fraud. His arrest drew widespread Western condemnation, with the United States and the European Union calling for his release.
The "Putin's palace" report released by Navalny alleges the Russian leader owns a 17,691 square metre mansion that sits on a property 39 times the size of Monaco.
The Kremlin has denied the property belongs to Putin.