Navalny's allies call for major protest across Russia

FILE - In this Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 file photo, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in a cage in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny described tight controls at his prison in a letter posted Monday March 15, 2021, saying they include hourly checks during the night. Navalny's note posted on his Instagram page confirmed for the first time that he arrived at a prison colony in Pokrov in the Vladimir region, 85 kilometers (53 miles) east of Moscow, which stands out among Russian penitentiary facilities for its particularly strict regime. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
FILE - In this Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 file photo, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in a cage in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny described tight controls at his prison in a letter posted Monday March 15, 2021, saying they include hourly checks during the night. Navalny's note posted on his Instagram page confirmed for the first time that he arrived at a prison colony in Pokrov in the Vladimir region, 85 kilometers (53 miles) east of Moscow, which stands out among Russian penitentiary facilities for its particularly strict regime. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

MOSCOW – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's allies on Tuesday called for a new massive protest across the country to demand his release from prison.

In a statement posted on Navalny's website, they urged Russians to sign up for a protest on an interactive map and said they will set a date for it when the number of people willing to take part reaches at least 500,000 nationwide.

The organizers claimed in a YouTube statement that the rally would the biggest that Russia has seen.

They set up a dedicated website for the protest, inviting those willing to take part to register on the interactive map. Just several hours after it opened, more than 100,000 people had signed up.

Ivan Zhdanov, the head of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said in an interview with the independent Dozhd TV that all personal data of people registering on the website will be reliably protected.

Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff who has lived abroad since 2019, said that when enough people have signed up “we will choose a convenient date and stage a peaceful march in all Russian cities.”

“Our main enemy is indifference, apathy, being apolitical,” said another top Navalny associate, Maria Pevchickh. “No one will give us freedom as a gift, it can't be bought. We must fight for it.”

The 44-year-old Navalny, who is President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken opponent, was arrested on Jan. 17 upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.