In Change Of Tactics, Protesters Plan To Use Light To Show Support For Navalny
February 14, 2021 05:45 GMT – By RFE/RL
Supporters of imprisoned Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny plan a protest using light from mobile phones, flashlights, and candles on February 14 to express support for Navalny despite a warning that people taking part could face criminal charges.
Navalny’s team has called on people across Russia to switch on their mobile phone flashlights for 15 minutes beginning at 8 p.m. (local time) and shine the light into the sky from their homes or the courtyards of their apartment buildings. They can also express solidarity with Navalny by holding flashlights aloft or arranging candles in a heart shape to mark the Valentine’s Day protest.
Participants have been encouraged to post pictures of the protest on social media.
The Valentine’s Day action under the motto “Love is stronger than fear” is a response to the “unprecedented wave of violence and repression” by security forces at past rallies, the organizers said.
The peaceful protest is designed to make it difficult for the police to take action, but the Kremlin has already signaled its contempt for the event.
Russia’s federal media regulator on February 12 ordered media outlets, including RFE/RL’s Russian Service and Current Time TV, to delete all reports about the planned protest.
The official order from Roskomnadzor said Russian authorities would consider any reporting about the flashlight protest to be a call for people to take part in an unsanctioned public demonstration and mass disorder.
Navalny’s team in Tomsk said they also were warned by the city prosecutor’s office on February 12 that they could be held liable for staging an unsanctioned protest action.
Leonid Volkov, director of Navalny’s network of teams across Russia, announced the change after calling a moratorium on street protests in response to police crackdowns against mass demonstrations that have led to tens of thousands of arrests across Russia.
Volkov called the protest using light a nonviolent way for Russians to show the extent of outrage over Navalny’s treatment without subjecting themselves to arrests and police abuse.
The protest is also dedicated to Navalny’s wife Yulia Navalnaya, who flew to Germany on February 10. Although no explanation was given for her departure, Navalnaya had recently been detained for taking part in unsanctioned rallies in support of her husband.
The 44-year-old Navalny, a staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was arrested on January 17 after returning to Russia from Germany where he had been treated for a nerve-agent poisoning he says was ordered by Putin. The Kremlin denies it had any role in the attack.
Navalny’s detention sparked outrage across the country and much of the West, with tens of thousands of Russians taking part in street rallies on January 23 and 31.
Police cracked down harshly on the demonstrations, putting many of Navalny’s political allies behind bars and detaining thousands more — sometimes violently — as they gathered on the streets. The crackdown led Volkov to call for a pause in the street demonstrations until the spring.
A Russian court on February 2 ruled Navalny was guilty of violating the terms of his suspended sentence relating to an embezzlement case that he has called politically motivated. The judge ruled that he violated parole conditions while recovering from the near-fatal poisoning in Germany.
The court converted the sentence to 3 1/2 years in prison. Given credit for time already spent in detention, the court said Navalny must serve another two years and eight months behind bars.
Law enforcement officers on February 13 conducted another search of one of Navalny’s offices, activists said. The search in Chelyabinsk took place while nobody was present in the office, the activists said on Twitter.
“We came to the headquarters and found this,” the activists tweeted together with several pictures of the ransacked office. “The premises were raided while we were working remotely,” the activists said.