A Russian popstar, a top doctor and Alexei Navalny’s brother are among supporters who face two months under house arrest as the Kremlin seeks to shut down a growing movement.
Pussy Riot punk band singer Maria Alekhina has been detained along with Navalny’s brother Oleg, his top ally, Lyubov Sobol; Oleg Stepanov, the head of Navalny’s Moscow office and Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva from the Navalny-backed Alliance of Doctors.
Meanwhile the White House has revealed US President Joe Biden personally called for Mr Alexei’s release during a phone conversation this week with Vladimir Putin.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday that Mr Biden had pressed Mr Putin on a number of issues, including alleged election interference in the 2020 election, Ukraine sovereignty, the massive SolarWind cyber hack, and Mr Navalny.
Mr Navalny, the 44-year-old anti-corruption investigator and best-known critic of Putin’s government, was arrested upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin.
His movement has gained a massive following in Russia, and drew tens of thousands of people to the streets in demonstration last weekend in 100 Russian cities in protest against Mr Navalny’s arrest and 30-day detention.
Nearly 4,000 people were reportedly detained at those protests, and some were given fines and jail terms.
Since then, the opposition figure faced a Moscow court on Thursday but his appeal to be released was rejected and could in fact be turned into a three-and-a-half year prison sentence.
Russian authorities claim Mr Navalny has been detained for breaching the probation terms of his suspended sentence from a 2014 money-laundering conviction that he has rejected as politically motivated.
Mr Navalny’s brother served a three-and-a-half year sentence after being convicted in the same case in what was widely seen as an attempt to pressure the opposition leader.
Mr Navanly’s brother and supporters were detained for 48 hours as part of a criminal probe into alleged violations of coronavirus regulations during last weekend’s protests.
On Friday, Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court put them under house arrest until March 23 as requested by investigators.
Mr Navalny’s arrest and the harsh police actions at the protests have brought wide criticism from the West and calls for his release.