Vocal Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny is facing a 15-day jail sentence after organizing protests in Russia on Sunday that decried government corruption and led to some 1,000 arrests.
Mr. Navalny was found guilty of disobeying a police officer at a Moscow protest, and fined for organizing the demonstrations, which Russian authorities say were illegal.
One of the most vocal critics of the current government and corruption, Navalny organized the demonstrations to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who he claims used government funds for personal expenses. While Russian officials say the protests were unauthorized and jeopardized safety, critics say the police used heavy-handed tactics and have wrongfully detained those voicing their opinions.
"Even the slightest illusion of fair justice is absent here," Navalny told reporters Monday, when he appeared in court. "Yesterday's events have shown that quite a large number of voters in Russia support the program of a candidate who stands for fighting corruption. These people demand political representation – and I strive to be their political representative."
The protests, which took place in some 80 cities across the country, were the largest since 2012 and come a year before Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to seek re-election.
And while the current president enjoys popularity among voters, Navalny hopes to challenge him, garnering support for his outsider campaign by capitalizing on outrage over the alleged corruption. A charismatic figure popular among factions of protesters, Navalny has been convicted on multiple counts of fraud and embezzlement, which he says are politically motivated, false allegations.
Russian police say they arrested 500 people in the protests, but a human rights group published a list of 1,000 detainees. Following the sweeping arrests, the European Union and United States called on authorities to release the demonstrators.
"We can't agree with these calls," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in response to the requests. "The Kremlin respects people's civic stance and their right to voice their position. We can't express the same respect to those who consciously misled people and who consciously did it yesterday and provoked illegal actions."
Russian officials have dismissed the corruption allegations as Western propaganda that ignores the views of many rural citizens. But on Sunday, protesters took to the streets across the country, even in areas where Mr. Putin sees strong support.
Despite the arrests, Navalny says he and his supporters don’t plan on letting their opposition movement die out anytime soon.
"You can’t detain tens of thousands of people," he said. "Yesterday we saw the authorities can only go so far."
This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.