Russia bans organizations founded by jailed opposition activist Alexei Navalny by deeming them “extremists”, a label which prohibits its supporters from running for office and threatens them with several years in prison.
A Moscow court said on Wednesday that the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and its nationwide network of political activists should be classified alongside Isis and al-Qaeda, in a move that groups say. defense of human rights, is part of a Kremlin campaign to silence the opposition to President Vladimir Putin ahead of the parliamentary elections in September.
Navalny, Putin’s foremost critic, was arrested in January and sentenced to two and a half years in prison after returning to Russia after recovering from poisoning with a nerve agent which he said was a 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’s groups, through their activism and organizing protests against the incarceration of Navalny and Putin, “created conditions to destabilize the social and socio-political situation under the guise 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 session, which lasted more than 12 hours, 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 comes days after Putin signed a law that makes it illegal for members or supporters of “extremist” organizations participate in Russian elections. Anyone who has been a member, donated or shared material created by such organizations is subject to criminal prosecution and up to six years in prison under Russian law.
The Navalny regional network, which has offices in dozens of Russian provincial towns, was legally shut down in April pending the court ruling. Senior associates have said they will continue their activism individually, regardless of Wednesday’s decision.
The network is a key part of Navalny’s efforts for the September election to use so-called smart voting – an initiative that prompts disgruntled voters to support candidates most likely to topple outgoing ruling Russia party politicians united.
The State Department condemned the designation and said it would further restrict the ability of opposition candidates to appear on the ballot in elections.
“With this action, Russia effectively criminalized one of the last independent political movements in the country,” said Ned Price, spokesman for the State Department. “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 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 and has denied any involvement in the poisoning of Navalny.