© Reuters. Oleg Navalny, brother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, attends a court hearing in Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court ordered on Friday that the brother and several supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny be put under house arrest until March 23 for calling for protests last weekend that could have posed a COVID-19 risk.

The court rulings are part of a crackdown targeting Navalny’s allies after tens of thousands of people joined unsanctioned protests across Russia last Saturday to demand that the Kremlin release Navalny from jail.

Navalny’s supporters plan to hold further protest rallies across Russia this Sunday. The authorities have said they are illegal and have vowed to break them up.

The opposition politician’s brother Oleg Navalny, as well as allies Lyubov Sobol, Anastasiya Vasilyeva and Oleg Stepanov were all placed under house arrest until March 23 pending further hearings. Maria Alyokhina, a member of the Pussy Riot punk band, was also put under house arrest.

Navalny’s allies say they are being prosecuted to stifle their protest activity and campaigning, something the authorities deny.

Sobol could be seen reading a book in court as the ruling was handed down.

Earlier on Friday, investigators declared Leonid Volkov, a close Navalny ally, a wanted man after they formally charged him in absentia with urging teenagers to take part in unsanctioned anti-Kremlin protests last weekend.

Volkov is currently outside the country.

Alexei Navalny was detained last week for 30 days for parole violations he says have been trumped up and he could face years in jail. He was arrested this month after flying back to Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning last August.

Navalny has accused President Vladimir Putin of ordering his poisoning. Putin has denied that the authorities tried to poison him and said Russian agents would have finished the job if they had wanted him dead.

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