In new tactic, Navalny supporters to rally in courtyards

In this photo provided by the Babuskinsky District Court, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in a cage during a hearing on his charges for defamation, in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared in a Moscow court on Friday for the second time this week, this time on a charge of slandering a World War II veteran. The politician, who was ordered earlier this week to serve two years and eight months in prison, slammed the hearing as a "disgusting PR trial" intended by the Kremlin to disparage him. (Babuskinsky District Court Press Service via AP)
In this photo provided by the Babuskinsky District Court, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in a cage during a hearing on his charges for defamation, in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared in a Moscow court on Friday for the second time this week, this time on a charge of slandering a World War II veteran. The politician, who was ordered earlier this week to serve two years and eight months in prison, slammed the hearing as a "disgusting PR trial" intended by the Kremlin to disparage him. (Babuskinsky District Court Press Service via AP) (Babuskinsky District Court)

MOSCOW – A top ally of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Tuesday announced a new anti-government protest, urging residents of big cities to briefly gather in residential courtyards this weekend with their cellphone flashlights on.

Navalny strategist Leonid Volkov said the protest will start at 8 p.m. Sunday and last 15 minutes. The new rally format — similar to the tactics opposition supporters employed during protests in neighboring Belarus — could prevent Russian riot police from interfering and allow anyone to participate, Volkov wrote in a Facebook post.

The protest will coincide with Valentine's Day, and Volkov titled his announcement “Love is stronger than fear.”

“You will raise your phone flashlights — and someone, maybe, will bring candles — and form a heart shape with them ... You will take a picture of it from above, from one of the apartments, and post it on Instagram. Let’s have social media feeds filled with thousands of shining hearts from dozens of Russian cities,” Volkov wrote. “No OMON (riot police), no fear.”

Navalny, 44, an anti-corruption investigator and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, was arrested Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.

His arrest and jailing sparked nationwide protests, with tens of thousands of people rallying across Russia for two weekends in a row in the largest outpouring of discontent in years.

Russian authorities responded with a harsh crackdown. More than 11,000 people have been detained, and hundreds were handed jail terms. Several of Navalny’s close allies face criminal charges and are under house arrest.

Last week, a Moscow court ruled that while Navalny was recovering in Germany, he violated the probation terms of his suspended sentence from a 2014 money-laundering conviction and ordered him to serve two years and eight months in prison. Even before that ruling, Navalny rejected the 2014 conviction political persecution and the European Court of Human Rights called it “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”