Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been released after spending 15 days in jail over a rally he led against alleged massive corruption by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
The anti-corruption campaigner was arrested on March 26 at the largest unauthorised demonstration of recent years in the capital, Moscow. He was found guilty of disobeying police orders.
“Hi everyone,” Navalny wrote on Twitter on Monday, posting a picture of himself at the offices of his anti-corruption foundation.
— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) April 10, 2017
Just before his release, police moved Navalny without warning to a different detention centre, in an apparent attempt to avoid media coverage.
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Moscow, said the way the authorities were handling the situation showed their nervousness about Navalny and his message.
“Effectively the media were tricked on Monday – the journalists waiting for Navalny to be released were told that actually he had been moved earlier in the day to a different detention facility and released from there with no cameras present,” he said.
“A spokesperson said that Navalny will carry on his preparations for the 2018 presidential elections,” Challands added.
The Kremlin critic was forced to hop on the metro as journalists and supporters were left waiting for him at the location where he had been held across Moscow.
Navalny, 40, was among hundreds arrested at rallies held the same day in Moscow and many other Russian cities.
In the capital, police in riot gear detained around 1,000 people, including a significant number of teenagers who grew up under President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
The protests, which attracted crowds of hundreds or thousands in most sizeable Russian cities, were the largest coordinated outpourings of dissatisfaction in Russia since mass protests in 2011-2012.
Navalny called for the protests after publishing online a detailed report accusing Medvedev of controlling a property empire through a shadowy network of non-profit organisations.
The opposition leader rose to fame with fiery speeches at mass protests over Putin’s return to the Kremlin for a third term in 2012.
He has harnessed the power of social media and YouTube to spread his message.
The video report has been viewed more than 18m times on YouTube and prompted wide discussion with mockery over details such as Medvedev’s purchase of flashy trainers.
Medvedev finally responded in televised comments on April 4, rejecting the claims as “malarkey”.
He accused Navalny of wanting “to try to pull people out into the streets and reach political ends”, while following the Kremlin practice of not naming the opposition leader directly.
Following the protests, Putin accused “someone, some political forces” of trying to advance “selfish interests”.
Navalny was fined for breaching rules of organising protests after going ahead with the Moscow protest without permission from the authorities.
Police searched the offices of his anti-corruption foundation and detained staff who were accused of disobeying police and sentenced to up to 10 days.
Navalny has announced he intends to stand in the 2018 presidential polls that Vladimir Putin is expected to contest for a fourth term.
A controversial past conviction on corruption charges, however, may prevent Navalny from getting on the ballot.
The Russian constitution allows public gatherings but recent laws have criminalised protests not authorised by city authorities, who frequently refuse to grant permission for rallies by Kremlin critics.
The political and national mood has shifted since the protests, however, following a deadly bomb attack on the St Petersburg metro and the United States’ direct intervention against Russia’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.