Pro-Navalny 'flashlight' protests light up Russian cities

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People draw hearts with their cellphones flashlights in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia Navalnaya Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021. When the team of jailed Russia opposition leader Alexei Navalny announced a protest in a new format, urging people to come out to their residential courtyards on Sunday and shine their cellphone flashlights, many responded with jokes and skepticism. After two weekends of nationwide demonstrations, the new protest format looked to some like a retreat. But not to Russian authorities, who moved vigorously to extinguish the illuminated protests planned for Sunday. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

MOSCOW – Supporters of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny came out to residential courtyards and shined their cellphone flashlights Sunday in a display of unity, despite efforts by Russian authorities to extinguish the illuminated protests.

Navalny’s team sent photos of small groups with lit-up cellphones in cities from Siberia to the Moscow region. It was unclear how many people participated overall.

No arrests were immediately reported. However, police detained nine people at a daytime demonstration in the city of Kazan calling for the release of political prisoners, according to OVD-Info, a human rights group that monitors political arrests.

The group said security guards at Moscow State University recorded the names of people leaving a dormitory to take part in a flashlight rally there.

When Navalny's first team urged people to come out to the cellphone protests, many responded with jokes and skepticism. After two weekends of nationwide demonstrations, the new protest format looked to some like a retreat.

Yet Russian officials spent days trying to blacken the protests. Officials accused Navalny’s allies of acting on NATO’s instructions. Kremlin-backed TV channels warned that flashlight rallies were part of major uprisings around the world. State news agencies cited unnamed sources as saying a terrorist group was plotting attacks during unapproved mass protests.

The suppression attempts represent a change of tactics for Russian authorities, who used ignore Navalny.

Kremlin-controlled TV channels used to not report about protests called by Navalny. Russian President Vladimir Putin has never mentioned his most prominent critic by name. State news agencies referred to the anti-corruption investigator as “a blogger” in the rare stories when they did mentioning him.