Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Monday urged Russians to take to the streets in protest at his treatment in a video clip released after a judge ordered he be remanded in pre-trial detention for 30 days.
“Don’t be afraid, take to the streets. Don’t go out for me, go out for yourself and your future,” Navalny said in the video, posted on YouTube.
Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport on Sunday after flying home for the first time since he was poisoned last summer.
The United Nations and Western nations told Russia to immediately free the opposition politician and some countries called for new sanctions.
The move, which could see Navalny jailed for 3.5 years for allegedly flouting the terms of a suspended prison sentence, may reignite political pressure on the West to tighten sanctions on Russia, especially against an $11.6 billion project to build a natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.
In a case that drew wide international attention, Navalny was poisoned last summer by what German military tests showed was a Novichok nerve agent, a version of events the Kremlin rejects.
Navalny recovered in Germany and after he said last week he planned to return home, the Moscow prison service (FSIN) said it would do everything to arrest him once he returned, accusing him of flouting the terms of a suspended prison sentence for embezzlement, a 2014 case he says was trumped up.
But the 44-year-old opposition politician laughed and joked with journalists on his plane, saying he was not afraid and did not believe he would be arrested.
Four masked police officers asked Navalny to accompany him at passport control at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, before he had formally entered Russia. They did not explain why. Navalny, after kissing his wife Yulia on the cheek, walked away with them.
Navalny’s supporters have said incarcerating one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic critics could turn him into a Nelson Mandela-like figure and an increasingly popular symbol of resistance to the Kremlin.
The Kremlin, which only refers to him as the “Berlin patient,” laughs that off. Putin allies point to opinion polls that show the Russian leader is far more popular than Navalny, whom they call a blogger rather than a politician.
Minutes before he was detained, Navalny had said: “I am not afraid. I know that I am right. I know all the criminal cases against me are fabricated.”
Navalny says Putin was behind his poisoning. The Kremlin denies involvement. It says it has seen no evidence that he was poisoned.