Thousands of Russians Defy Ban on Protests to Call for Alexei Navalny’s Release

Thousands of Russians have gathered in unauthorized rallies across the country on April 21 to demand the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Protesters rallied in several cities, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Vladimir, to call for Navalny to receive proper medical attention due to his declining health during a weeks-long hunger strike in prison.

According to Russian protest monitoring group OVD-Info, authorities have detained over 1,000 people nationwide, 351 of which were in St. Petersburg.

“Any aggressive actions by participants in unauthorized public meetings, especially attempts to provoke clashes with law enforcement officials, will be regarded as a threat to public safety and immediately suppressed,” the interior ministry warned earlier this week.

Protesters faced heavy presence of riot police, who wore helmets and body armor, in most major cities.

The largest crowds were in Moscow, but estimates on the number of protesters differ.

Police said that over 14,000 people protested in 29 cities, including 6,000 people who rallied in Moscow.

However, Navalny’s allies said the crowds in Moscow reached 60,000 people while other reports said that the crowds in the capital reached up to 10,000.

Navalny’s team originally sought to gather around 500,000 people.

The protests came the same day Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual address to the nation, warning foreign powers against “provoking” Moscow and that they would “regret” crossing Russia’s “red lines.”

Navalny has gone into a hunger strike since March 31 and has been demanding to receive proper medical care for his back pain and numbness in his legs and hands.

Authorities moved Navalny to a prison hospital last April 19 and said his health was “satisfactory.”

However, Physician Yaroslav Ashikhmin said in a Facebook post that Navalny “could die at any moment.”

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