Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was detained by police on Thursday but then released a short while later, weeks ahead of a presidential election in which he has been barred from running.
A 41-year-old anti-corruption campaigner, Navalny has been repeatedly jailed for organising some of Russia‘s biggest protests in recent years, railing against what he says are the gilded lives of President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle.
He has been barred from running in the March 18 election over what his supporters say is a trumped-up suspended prison sentence, but has called for a nationwide boycott aimed at undermining Putin’s legitimacy.
Whatever the turnout though, Putin is widely expected to win the election by a landslide and secure a fourth term in the Kremlin.
Navalny said on Twitter that he was detained by police on Thursday as he left from visiting the dentist. Just under an hour later, he said police released him but said they had started legal proceedings against him for organising illegal protests.
“They offered me a lift somewhere, but I declined and have gone to work. I don’t understand what happened, and why it took seven people to detain me,” he said.
If found guilty, Navalny faces up to 30 days in jail.
Navalny’s detention on Thursday came shortly after his campaign chief, Leonid Volkov, also said on Twitter that he had been detained by police at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
A spokeswoman for Navalny said Volkov was still being held.
Tweeting before his detention, Navalny said Volkov had been planning to fly to the Russian regional republic of Bashkortostan to organise election-monitoring activities.
Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, told Reuters the head of the opposition campaigner’s Anti-corruption Foundation had been sentenced to ten days in jail on Tuesday for organising an unsanctioned protest in January.