More than 400 people arrested in Russia at Navalny memorial events, rights group Reuters says

©Reuters. People gather at the Solovetsky stone monument to victims of political repressions to honor the memory of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in St. Petersburg, Russia, February 17, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) – More than 400 people have been arrested at events in 32 Russian cities following the death of Alexei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most formidable opponent, according to rights group OVD-Info, while Russians continued to gather and lay flowers.

It was the largest wave of arrests at political events in Russia since September 2022, when more than 1,300 were arrested during demonstrations against a “partial mobilization” of reservists for Putin’s military campaign in Ukraine.

Navalny, a 47-year-old former lawyer, lost consciousness and died on Friday after a walk in the Arctic penal colony “Polar Wolf” where he was serving a three-decade sentence, the penitentiary service said.

OVD-Info, which reports on freedom of assembly in Russia, said the largest number of arrests occurred in St. Petersburg and Moscow, where Navalny’s support was traditionally strong. As of 20.00 GMT on Saturday, more than 200 people were detained in St. Petersburg.

But there was no mention of the events in Russian state news agencies, which are under full control of the Kremlin. There are also no stories about the hundreds of people across Russia who continued to defy authorities to lay flowers at Navalny’s makeshift memorials.

Navalny’s death deprives the Russian opposition of its most prominent leader as Putin prepares for a presidential election in March – a rubber-stamp vote destined to keep the former KGB spy in power until at least 2030.

Footage shot by Reuters in St. Petersburg on Saturday shows dozens of people gathered in front of a monument to the victims of the crackdown. Protesters laid flowers and candles, while some sang hymns and others hugged each other, shedding tears.

“I felt very sorry for him and for our country,” said an 83-year-old woman at the vigil who declined to give her name. “I am afraid.”

A Reuters journalist at the scene said around 30 people were arrested shortly after the singing ended.


OVD-Info also reported individual arrests in smaller towns across Russia, from the border town of Belgorod, where seven were killed in a Ukrainian missile attack on Thursday, to Vorkuta, an Arctic mining outpost once the center of the Stalin-era gulag work. .

Online news outlet SOTA reported that in Lugansk, a Ukrainian territory now under Russian control, residents laid flowers in Navalny’s honor at a monument commemorating the victims of Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin.

In another city, flowers were laid at a monument to the heroes of the Russian Revolution of the early 20th century.

“Despite authorities’ attempts to remove the flowers, they continue to appear,” SOTA reported.

Footage shot by Reuters in Moscow showed law enforcement officers herding people to the ground in the snow, near a spot where mourners had left flowers and messages in support of the dead opposition leader.

“There may be more detainees in each police department than are reported in published lists,” OVD-Info said. “We only publish the names of those people about whom we have reliable knowledge and whose names we can publish.”

Reuters could not immediately verify the count. Police declined to comment.

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