Russian police have detained the wife of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny at a thousands-strong protest in support of her jailed husband.
Yulia Navalnaya was among more than 4000 others who were arrested for taking part in unsanctioned rallies demanding the release of Alexei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent.
Mr Navalny’s team took to Twitter to reveal Ms Navalnaya, 44, had been taken into police custody during the nationwide rallies on Sunday.
“Yulia Navalnaya was detained at the protest! Freedom for the Navalnys!” the team wrote.
Earlier that day, before joining the protests, Ms Navalnaya wrote on Instagram: “If we stay quiet, then they could come for any of us tomorrow.”
The nationwide rallies are part of a high-risk opposition campaign to pressure the Kremlin into freeing Mr Navalny, who was arrested on January 17 after returning to Moscow from Germany where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning in Russia last summer.
He accuses Mr Putin of ordering his murder, which the Kremlin denies.
OVD-Info, an independent NGO that monitors rallies, said 4027 protesters had been detained by 2.30pm on Sunday (local time).
It recorded 1167 arrests in Moscow alone and 862 in Saint Petersburg.
At the end of Sunday’s protests, Mr Navalny’s team announced plans to rally again on February 2.
“Today’s protest is over, but we continue to fight for Alexey Navalny’s freedom,” the team posted on their Telegram channel.
“Next stop is Simonovsky court. On February 2, we are obliged to come to the Simonovsky court to support Alexey,” it continued.
About 2600 arrests were made last weekend, as protests erupted across more than 60 Russian cities.
Yulia, a 40-year-old protester in Moscow, was among those to have braved the bitter cold and a massive show of police force to demand Mr Navalny be set free.
She had joined the rallies on Sunday despite having a panic attack the night before because of worrying about repercussions for taking part.
“I understand that I live in a totally lawless state. In a police state, with no independent courts. In a country ruled by corruption. I would like to live differently,” she said.
Police have said the protests were illegal as they have not been authorised and would be broken up. Authorities said demonstrators could spread COVID-19.
At one point a column of protesters marched towards the prison in northern Moscow where Mr Navalny is being held, chanting “Let him go!”
Reuters reporters estimated crowds of several thousand that were smaller than last weekend when police estimated 4,000 people and the opposition put the figure at 50,000, an assertion the authorities dismissed as nowhere near the truth.
In a highly unusual move, police imposed a security lockdown in the heart of the capital on Sunday, sealing off streets to pedestrians near the Kremlin, closing metro stations and deploying hundreds of helmeted, baton-wielding riot police as snow fell.
The protest is a test of Mr Navalny’s support after many of his prominent allies were targeted in a crackdown this week. Several, including his brother Oleg, are under house arrest.
In the far eastern city of Vladivostok, video footage showed protesters chanting “Putin is a thief” as they linked hands and marched in temperatures of around -13C.
In Tomsk, the Siberian city that Mr Navalny visited before suddenly collapsing on a domestic flight last August after being poisoned, demonstrators gathered in front of a concert hall and chanted “Let him go!”.
Mr Navalny, 44, is accused of parole violations which he says are trumped up. A court is due to meet next week to consider handing him a jail term of up to three and a half years.
The West has told Moscow to let Mr Navalny go and his allies have appealed to US President Joe Biden to impose sanctions on 35 people who they say are Putin’s close allies.