MOSCOW (Reuters) – An ally of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Tuesday announced plans for a new nationwide protest in support of the jailed politician, telling Russians to gather in residential courtyards on Sunday evening and turn on their mobile phone torches.
Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest against the incarceration of Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, who says he is being persecuted for political reasons.
Police detained over 11,000 people who took part in what they said were unsanctioned protests which the Kremlin condemned as illegal and dangerous.
Leonid Volkov, a Navalny ally based outside Russia, said the new protest format this weekend, which is reminiscent of tactics used by the anti-government opposition in neighbouring Belarus, should help distance protesters from the police.
Volkov called on people in big Russian cities to gather in residential courtyards near their homes at 1700 GMT and to stand there for several minutes shining their mobile phone torches.
He suggested some people bring candles and make heart shapes out of them to mark Valentine’s Day, and photograph them from above in an event he said would last just 15 minutes.
The idea, he said, would then be to flood social media with images of the brief protest.
“Thought you were the only one in the whole big block who is not indifferent to what’s happening in the country? You’ll see that’s not the case,” Volkov wrote in a post on the Telegram messenger.
“No OMON (riot police), no fear. Maybe it’ll seem like these 15 minutes will change nothing – but in fact they will change everything.”
Navalny was arrested in January after returning to Russia for the first time since being poisoned last August in Siberia with what many Western countries said was a nerve agent. The Kremlin has questioned whether he was really poisoned.
He was jailed on Feb. 2 after a court ruled he had violated the terms of a suspended sentence in an embezzlement case he says was trumped up.
The case has sparked new tensions between Russia and the West and renewed talk of sanctions. Navalny’s allies have urged the West to target individuals close to Putin with punitive measures.
Russia’s foreign ministry accused Navalny’s allies of treachery on Tuesday for discussing potential sanctions with the West.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Anton Zverev; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)