Russia bans Alexei Navalny’s organizations as “extremists”
Russia has banned organizations founded by jailed opposition activist Alexei Navalny on the grounds that they are “extremists,” a label that prohibits supporters from running for office and threatens them with several years in prison.
A Moscow court ruled on Wednesday that the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and its nationwide network of political activists should be filed alongside Isis and al-Qaeda, a move which advocacy groups say rights, was part of a Kremlin campaign to silence the opposition to President Vladimir Putin before the legislative elections in September.
Navalny, Putin’s foremost critic, was arrested in January and sentenced the following month to two and a half years in prison after returning to Russia, having recovered from poisoning with a nerve agent which he said was an assassination attempt ordered by the Kremlin.
“The headquarters of FBK and Navalny are recognized as extremist organizations,” lawyers for the groups said. “As a result, their activities are prohibited on the territory of Russia, and all employees who continue to work for them are threatened with a real prison sentence.”
According to partial transcripts provided by FBK lawyers, Russian prosecutors argued that Navalny groups, through their activism and the organization of protests against the imprisonment of Navalny and Putin, “created the conditions for a destabilization of the social and socio-political situation under the cover of their liberal slogans. . . take people to the streets to change the power of government ”.
Prosecutors also said FBK payments, made to help protesters detained by police with legal fees, should be classified as “funding extremist activities,” suggesting those who received the funds could be the target of prosecution. .
The court hearing lasted more than 12 hours and was held behind closed doors after it was ruled that some of the documents discussed were secret. FBK’s legal team said they would appeal the ruling.
It happened days after Putin signed a law making it illegal for members or supporters of “extremist” organizations participate in Russian elections. Anyone who donates or shares material created by such organizations faces criminal prosecution and risks up to six years in prison under Russian law.
The Navalny regional network, which has offices in dozens of Russian provincial towns, legally closed in April pending the court decision. Senior associates have said they will continue their activism individually, regardless of Wednesday’s decision.
The network is a crucial part of Navalny’s efforts to the September elections to use what’s called smart voting – an initiative that prompts disgruntled voters to support candidates most likely to topple the incumbents of the ruling United Russia party.
The U.S. State Department condemned the tribunal’s designation, saying it would further restrict the ability of opposition candidates to appear on the ballot in September.
“With this action, Russia effectively criminalized one of the last independent political movements in the country,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “While the scale of today’s action is particularly worrying, it is indicative of the Russian government’s growing crackdown on political opposition, civil society and independent media.”
The State Department has called for Navalny’s immediate release and urged Russia to end the crackdown on his supporters.
FBK, founded by Navalny ten years ago, has published a number of investigations into allegations of financial corruption by senior Russian government officials.
In January, after Navalny’s detention, he published a survey in what he said was a $ 1.4 billion Black Sea palace built for Putin by a clique of oligarchs, which has since been viewed 117 million times on YouTube.
The Kremlin has denied any connection between Putin or his family and the palace, as well as any involvement in the poisoning of Navalny.