After Navalny’s death, the repression is alive and well

By Dr Evgeniya Gidulianova and Willy Fautré

HRWF (14.03.2024) – Despite the increased presence of security forces, there were no mass detentions during the funeral in Moscow on March 1 but the state repression mainly took place after the Western media had left the scene of the ceremony. According to the  OVD-Info Human Rights Portal, more than a hundred Russians at least were arrested in 22 cities but they say “There may be more detainees in each police station than in the published lists. We only publish the names of people we know for sure and whose names we can publish. See the lists of OVD-Info HERE

Over 100 detention cases of mourners

In many regions, the police detained those who came to spontaneous memorials, including those organized at monuments to victims of political repression.

In total, according to OVD-Info, on the day of Alexei Navalny’s funeral, security forces made at least 103 detentions in 20 cities across Russia. The largest number took place in Novosibirsk (24), Omsk (15), Yekaterinburg (10), Ramon (9).

On the evening of March 1, a journalist from “Novaya Gazeta” Vasily Polonsky,  who  was covering the funeral, was briefly arrested in Moscow. He said that the police forced him to show his phone. According to him, an employee of the Center “E”[i] tried to recruit him and proposed him to send the videos to the security forces. “They are apparently trying to find the Navalny Live camera, because they were interested in who I was streaming for,” he said.

Arrests in Moscow and other cities: identified by surveillance cameras

In the days following the funeral, security forces continued to detain people who participated in rallies in memory of Alexei Navalny in February and attended his funeral. Those who laid flowers at the monuments of victims of political repression were also accused of administrative violations.

The first to be detained was a resident of Moscow, who was caught during the funeral on a video in which the police heard the phrase “Glory to the Heroes.” (*) She spent the night of March 4 at the police station, after which she was fined 1,500 rubles under an administrative article on the demonstration of prohibited symbols.

On March 5-6, law enforcement agencies detained several more people in the capital.

Polina Orekhova said that the policemen’s claims against her were related to the laying of flowers on February 17. She was also prosecuted under the article on violation of the rules for holding rallies (Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). Polina Orekhova told  OVD-Info that the police used force on her in an attempt to force her to give her fingerprints. After that, the security forces came to her home again to intimidate her. 

Elena Gribkova, told representatives of the OVD-Info project that the police had questions for her, due to the fact that she came to Navalny’s funeral, and before that also participated in the action in memory of the politician on Sakharov Avenue on February 17.

Elena Gribkova was previously detained on February 17 at the “Wall of Sorrow” in Moscow during the laying of flowers in memory of Alexei Navalny. On that day, the security forces released the girl without a protocol, but on March 5, she was detained again.

On March 6, the Simonovsky Court of Moscow sentenced her to 7 days of arrest under the “rally” article (Part 6.1 of Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). She allegedly “blocked roads” and “interfered with the passage of citizens.” Afterwards, the appellate court released her because she needed to take care of a disabled father. In addition, the court took into account that the detainee herself had medical contra-indications to serving the arrest.

Another detainee, Yegor Komlev, was arrested outside his house by two plainclothes policemen. He was taken to the police station in the Khoroshevo-Mnevniki district and photographed. His passport was taken away.  The young man participated in the laying of flowers on February 16 and 17, and also attended the funeral of Navalny on March 1. The police told Komlev that they had identified him from surveillance cameras in the city. Yegor Komlev was fined 10 thousand rubles, being found guilty under the rally article. This was reported by his defender from OVD-Info Daria Rachilina.

Detentions also took place in other Russian cities. A resident of Ulan-Ude, Svetlana Vachelanova, was considered guilty of organizing an unsanctioned public event after she brought a portrait of Alexei Navalny to the monument to the victims of political repression and laid flowers next to it. The Sovetsky District Court of Ulan-Ude found her guilty under an administrative article on organizing a public event without notice, Sibir Realii reported. According to the court decision, Vachelanova was guilty of failing to notify the authorities in accordance with the procedure established by law: she “produced campaign material, printing a photo image of A.A. Navalny, known as one of the leaders of the Russian opposition, on A4 format, placed in a frame.” Then she “took action to purchase eight flowers.” And, finally, she placed a photo and flowers at the foot of the monument to the victims of political repression of the 1930s-1950s.

On March 6, activist Maria-Victoria Nagornykh, who had previously served seven days in prison, was detained again in  Murmansk. The court sentenced her to another seven days of administrative arrest. In both cases, because of the references to Alexei Navalny. Both times, the court found her guilty of displaying symbols of an extremist organization. The first protocol on Nagornykh was drawn up because of a one-person picket with a poster: “Alexei Navalny was killed, his blood is on your hands, Vladimir“. Now, she has been charged with posting a photo of Navalny and flowers on a tree. During the first arrest, the activist’s health deteriorated greatly. She was kept in dampness conditions and without heating in the temporary detention center, which is located in the basement of Police Department No. 1. Before the trial, an ambulance was sent to her detention place. She was given an anesthetic injection and the doctors said that she needed some treatment with antibiotics.

According to OVD-Info’s calculations, after the mourning events that took place on the day of Navalny’s death on February 16, more than 15 people were detained after being identified by video cameras.

Final remarks

Dmitry Anisimov, a spokesman for OVD-Info, said that “it is too early to talk about a trend,” but on the day of the funeral, he warned that the persecution of the participants would probably not be limited to detentions directly related to the rally. Anisimov noted that the facial recognition system in Moscow makes it possible to trace everybody everywhere. Since at least 2021, the police have been actively detaining protesters on the basis of data collected by surveillance cameras.

According to Medusa, citing sources in the Kremlin close to the presidential administration, the security forces “can come to the funeral participants identified by surveillance cameras for prevention,” and “those who were active, and not just standing with flowers,” are at risk.

(*) “Glory to the Heroes” does not only concern the memory of Navalny as a hero. This is a Ukrainian patriotic phrase that is used as an anti-war slogan. This is a response to the initiating interjection “Slava Ukraini”. That is why the Russian Ministry of Justice qualified it as “nazi.”

Navalny’s grave. Photo: