Russian police raided the Moscow offices of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's group on Wednesday and came to search several other properties, including a flat where his wife was, as the country's media watchdog said it would fine social media platforms for spreading protest calls.
The police searches come after tens of thousands of Navalny's supporters took to the streets on Saturday to call on the Kremlin to release him from jail where he is serving a 30-day stint for alleged parole violations that he denies.
Police had said the protests were illegal and detained close to 4,000 people. More than a dozen criminal cases have been opened. Navalny's allies plan to hold another rally this Sunday.
Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, said police appeared to be conducting the searches as part of an investigation into calls made to hold a protest that flouted restrictions imposed over the Covid-19 pandemic.
Zhdanov wrote on Twitter that Navalny's apartment in northern Moscow was being searched.
"A lot of 'heavies' in masks. They started breaking down the door," Zhdanov said, adding that Navalny's brother, Oleg, was inside the property.
At another location, Zhdanov posted video showing Yulia Navalnaya, the Kremlin critic's wife, telling police to wait for her lawyer to arrive as they banged loudly at the door.
Police also searched the offices of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, he said. Photos on social media showed around 20 masked men waiting to gain entry.
Navalny has not yet returned home since being poisoned last summer, as he was arrested immediately on his return to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering.
Social media crackdown
The police raids came as Russia's media watchdog said it would punish top social media platforms for failing to delete posts calling for minors to join unsanctioned protests in support of Navalny.
Ahead of Saturday's rallies, social media platforms including TikTok, which is popular among teenagers, were flooded with thousands of posts calling for Russians to demonstrate.
In response, Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor warned the platforms they would face fines for failing to delete such posts and said that several had removed a significant number.
But on Wednesday the watchdog deemed they had not done enough and said platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube, would be fined "for failure to comply with the requirements to suppress the spread of calls to minors to participate in unauthorized rallies".
"Despite the request of the prosecutor general's office and the notification from Roskomnadzor, these internet platforms did not remove in time a total of 170 illegal appeals," Roskomnadzor said in a statement.
It added that the fines would range from 800,000 rubles ($10,520) to 4 million rubles ($52,760).
Also on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin complained about the growing influence of large technology companies, which he said are "competing" with states.
Hashtags dedicated to Navalny have been trending on TikTok, where they have garnered more than 1.5 billion views since his return from Germany.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)