Moscow — Russian authorities have rounded up several more opposition activists, including close allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, as part of a pressure campaign aimed at keeping a lid on protests this weekend sparked by Navalny's arrest. Moscow is also pushing international social media companies to silence calls for people to join the unsanctioned rallies on Saturday in support of Navalny.
Navalny, 44, wasat a Moscow airport immediately upon his return from Germany, where he spent the previous five months recovering from poisoning with the deadly Soviet-era nerve agent novichok. He believes the attack took place in Russia on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.
After a judge ordered him held in jail for at least 30 days pending another court appearance, Navalny's allies posted a video online in which the dissident sharply criticized Putin andin nationwide protests on Saturday afternoon.
His appeal was backed by scores of supporters, with bloggers, rappers, actors and writers posting their own videos on social media urging people to attend the rallies. The support prompted an immediate reaction from the Russian government, with officials threatening to take legal action against online platforms.
"Law enforcement agencies will immediately respond to violations and take all necessary measures to ensure law and order," Moscow's police force said in a statement issued on Friday.
Several leading opposition activists and Navalny associates were detained on Thursday and Friday ahead of the rallies, including his close ally Lyubov Sobol and his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh. Police officers also visited many opposition figures, journalists and activists at their homes across Russia, warning them to avoid the unauthorized demonstrations.
Opposition activists have planned rallies for Saturday in about 65 cities across the country, with the largest one expected in Moscow.
Russian authorities told TikTok and other social networks to prevent the sharing of what the government deems information that could lead minors to engage in illegal activities that put their lives or health in danger.
All of the popular platforms, including TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook, were flooded with videos in support of Navalny.
The country's communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, said it would seek to fine social media platforms for failing to comply with restrictions ordered in Russia. The agency later claimed that TikTok had removed or limited access to 38% of information identified as illegal in connection to the planned protests, while YouTube and Vkontakte had curbed access to 50%, and Instagram 17%. of their related content.
CBS News has requested comment from TikTok and YouTube on the claim by the Russian watchdog agency that they were limiting access to content related to the protests on their platforms in the country.
As of Friday afternoon, there were still many pro-Navalny videos available on TikTok and YouTube.
In one humorous clip that went viral on TikTok and Twitter, a young blogger using the handle @neurolera teaches Russian social media users some handy English phrases, suggesting they might pass themselves off as American tourists if confronted by police during the rallies.
Omg it’s amazing. First one: how to pretend you are an American tourist when the police try to arrest you on Saturday: pic.twitter.com/0fPfSPGSIv
— Tanja Maier (@tanjamaier17) January 21, 2021
"You say: 'You are violating my human rights!'" she explains.
Navalny's detention drew swift condemnation from U.S. and European officials and the United Nations.
The head of the European Union's governing council urged Putin on Friday in a telephone call to release the opposition leader and insisted on an investigation into his August poisoning.
"In my call with President Putin today, I reiterated [that the] EU is united in its condemnation of Alexei Navalny's detention and calls for his immediate release," European Council President Charles Michel said on Twitter.
In my call with president Putin @KremlinRussia_E today I reiterated #EU is united in its condemnation of Alexey #Navalny’s detention and calls for his immediate release.Russia must urgently proceed with full and transparent investigation into the assassination attempt on him. pic.twitter.com/gPmhd0TB4o
— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) January 22, 2021
Navalny announced his plan to return home from Berlin last week, despite a new criminal case having been opened against him in Russia on fraud charges.
The Kremlin could seek to imprison Navalny for up to 13 and a half years on the charges, Bloomberg reported on Friday, citing sources. Navalny's supporters in the Russian opposition dismiss all the legal threats against him as contrived political persecution.
The Kremlin's fiercest critic became violently ill on a domestic flight five months ago. After several days of treatment in Siberia, he was eventually airlifted in a coma to Berlin, where toxicology reports confirmed he'd been poisoned with the same kind of novichok nerve agent used in a 2018 attack on a former Russian double agent in England.
In ancorrespondent Lesley Stahl in Germany, Navalny laid the blame for his poisoning directly on Putin. "I don't think," he said. "I'm sure that he is responsible."
It remained unclear the day before the planned rallies whether the Kremlin's dramatic efforts to prevent a massive, public show of support for its biggest critic would work, or backfire in spectacular fashion.