MOSCOW – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny walked free Thursday after spending 30 days in custody for staging an unsanctioned protest, noting with sarcasm that a Moscow jail where he was held has received a massive facelift ahead of the World Cup.
Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most visible foe, said the authorities apparently feel that “they may need to arrest British fans for drunken rampages and don’t want things to look bad” during the Russia-hosted World Cup that opens Thursday.
Contrasting the facility with regular conditions in Russian prisons, which are notoriously miserable, Navalny observed that all cells in the jail where he spent his sentence have been freshly painted and the usual pit latrines were replaced with flush toilets.
Normally poor rations were replaced with rich menus offering ample choice complete with halal options, alcohol-free beer and various desserts, Navalny said.
On top of all that, huge TV sets were put in each cell, an improvised soccer field was set up in the yard and English-speaking university students were added to the staff.
“Without any foreigners in sight, the students feel bored and complain loudly, demanding mass arrests to make acquaintances,” he added.
“Anticipating your ‘I want to be arrested’ comments, I would like to note that the number of available seats is limited, and if you plan violating public order you need to hurry up: After the World Cup is over, the golden carriage will turn back into a pumpkin.”
Navalny called a series of rallies in the Russian capital and other cities on May 5, just before Putin’s inauguration for a new term. Demonstrations under the slogan “He is not our czar” took place throughout the country.
A court in Moscow convicted Navalny on charges of organizing an unauthorized rally and resisting police, and ordered him jailed for 30 days.
The anti-corruption campaigner has served several weeks-long jail terms in the past for organizing other protests.