Russian Court Leaves Navalny In Jail On Eve Of Protests, Campaign Office Searched

MOSCOW -- A Russian court rejected Aleksei Navalny's appeal against a 20-day jail term, and police searched his Moscow presidential campaign office as the Kremlin foe urged supporters to protest nationwide on October 7.

In an October 6 ruling, the Moscow City Court upheld a lower court's decision to jail Navalny for violating the law by making public calls for unsanctioned rallies.

Minutes after the ruling was pronounced, police came to Navalny's campaign office in the capital with a search warrant, supporters said on Twitter.

The police told campaign office staff that the search was connected to an investigation opened after the head of Navalny's Moscow campaign office, Nikolai Lyaskin, was beaten by an assailant wielding a metal pipe on September 15.

The court ruling, which was expected, means that Navalny will remain in jail during protests on October 7, President Vladimir Putin's 65th birthday.

"I understand perfectly well that that [the Kremlin] needs me to be locked up as much as possible and particularly on October 7," Navalny's spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, was quoted as saying in court.

Navalny has called on Russians to demonstrate in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other cities nationwide, demanding that the government allow real political competition and let him run in the March 2018 presidential election.

"We have held several [campaign] rallies...and all have them have been peaceful and fully in line with the law," Navalny said, contending that his jailing was "politically motivated."

Navalny is a fierce critic of Putin, who has held power as prime minister or president since 1999 and is expected to seek a new six-year term in the vote. Putin is virtually assured of victory as the tightly-controlled political system leaves little room for surprises.

A 41-year-old lawyer who has produced numerous reports alleging corruption among key Putin allies, Navalny has opened more than 60 campaign offices and held rallies nationwide since announcing in December that he plans to seek the presidency.

Barred From Running

In June, however, the Central Election Commission said that Navalny was ineligible to run for public office because of a financial-crimes conviction in one of two high-profile cases that he contests were fabricated by the Kremlin for political reasons.

Navalny has pushed ahead with his campaign in defiance of that decision, holding a series of rallies in recent weeks.

The 20-day jail term came after he was detained outside his Moscow home on September 29 as he left to catch a train for the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod, where he had organized a rally that evening.

Ahead of the planned protests on October 7, Russian authorities have issued warnings against holding demonstrations without permission from the authorities.

"Public calls for unsanctioned rallies and meetings are illegal...and therefore organizers of such events will be prosecuted," Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on October 3.

Prosecutors in St. Petersburg, Putin's hometown, said on October 6 that "any attempts to conduct unsanctioned [demonstrations] are a direct violation of the law,"

Kremlin opponents and human rights activists say the government frequently violates the constitutional right to free assembly when it withholds permission for demonstrations or places restrictions on where and when they can be held.

On the eve of the planned protests, veteran activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva called on the authorities to abide by Russia's constitution and its international human rights commitments.

"The freedom of peaceful assembly as a fundamental human right lies at the foundation of the functioning of any democratic state," Alekseyeva said in a blog post on the website of radio station Ekho Moskvy.

"We demand adherence to the Constitution and call on all fellow citizens to actively defend their right to hold peaceful gatherings," said Alekseyeva, 90, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group.

With reporting by Fontanka and RIA