Russia: Activists detained under absurd “sanitary” charges for social media posts in support of public protest
On Saturday, 23 January 2021, protest rallies against the arbitrary arrest and unfounded, politically motivated prosecution of Aleksei Navalny, a prominent anti-corruption activist and Vladimir Putin’s critic, erupted across Russia and continued for 10 days. Authorities described the protests as “illegal”, citing the country’s unduly restrictive legislation on assemblies, and responded by prosecuting individuals they perceived responsible for encouraging the protests. The Investigative Committee arrested 12 prominent activists in Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. The Committee claimed the activists had violated COVID-19 related sanitary rules simply for calling for the protests, which in their view amounted to a crime. Russian authorities must stop denying and violating the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and must not use COVID-19 related restrictions to jail and silence their critics. All those detained solely for calling for, organizing, or participating in peaceful protests must be immediately released.