Political activist, renowned blogger and Yale World Fellow Alexei Navalny was arrested in Moscow Monday night and sentenced to 15 days in jail after helping to lead a protest against the incumbent party in Russia.
Navalny was giving a speech on the second day of rallies that drew thousands of Muscovites to protest alleged fraud in Sunday’s parliamentary elections before he was arrested on charges of obstructing traffic. Leslie Powell, director of communications and alumni affairs for the World Fellows Program, said that the program would continue to support Navalny and still recruit future fellows in Russia.
“Alexey is a genuine hero, someone whose commitment to the rule of law and government transparency has placed him, as well as his family, at great personal risk,” said a Tuesday statement from the World Fellows Program. “He represents many of the qualities that the Yale World Fellows Program seeks to encourage.”
In his speech, Navalny refered to leaders of Russia’s ruling political party, United Russia, as “thieves and crooks,” which is an opposition slogan Navalny popularized. Afterward, protesters moved in front of the KGB building in Moscow, and Navalny and roughly 300 others were arrested chanting “Putin is a thief,” according to several news sources.
“I sat with the lads in the riot police bus,” Navalny tweeted on the way to the police station, adding a photograph of crowded, smiling faces. “They say hello.”
However, Navalny’s phone was soon taken away and for several hours protesters were worried that he had been killed, said economics professor Aleh Tsyvinski, a close friend of Navalny. But their fears were quelled when a fellow protester tweeted a picture of Navalny with the caption, “Navalny alive!.”
Navalny’s wife, Julia, announced on his Twitter account that she would continue posting during his incarceration. As of Tuesday night, Navalny’s Twitter account had 122,000 followers, 13,000 more than the day before his arrest. His blog, navalny.livejournal.com, is considered the foremost opposition blog in Russia, Tsyvinski said.
Powell said the prominence of Navalny’s blog and his work against corruption in Russia drew the attention of the World Fellows Program. Navalny came to Yale last year to participate in the program, which brings 14 to 18 mid-career men and women from around the globe to campus each year to enroll in a special seminar, audit Yale courses and meet U.S. leaders and foreign diplomats.
“At the time [he was recruited], he wasn’t really well-known outside of Russia,” Powell said. “We hoped he would garner more international support by having him at Yale, and we believe that was successful.”
While at Yale, he published a 300-page document on his blog revealing that the Russian oil pipeline monopoly Transneft had embezzled $4 billion during the construction of a new pipeline. Three weeks later, he learned that Russia’s Minister of the Interior was investigating him for “suspicious activity,” Navalny told the News in January.
Navalny could not be reached for comment for this article due to his incarceration.
Tsyvinski, who encouraged Navalny to come to Yale last year, said the program “was very important” to Navalny since it exposed him to other social activists.
“At Yale, he saw that there are people who are passionate about changing the world against long odds, and I think that gave him a lot of strength,” Tsyvinski said. “It made him understand that many things are possible, and I think that’s the best thing that Yale does.”