Russia outlaws opposition leader Navalny’s groups
A Moscow court yesterday outlawed the organisations founded by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny by labelling them extremist, the latest move in a campaign to silence dissent and bar Kremlin critics from running for parliament in September. The Moscow City Court’s ruling, effective immediately, prevents people associated with Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his sprawling regional network from seeking public office. Many of Navalny’s allies had hoped to run for parliamentary seats in the September 19 election. The ruling, part of a multi-pronged Kremlin strategy to steamroll the opposition, sends a tough message one week before President Vladimir Putin holds a summit meeting with US President Joe Biden in Geneva. The extremism label also carries lengthy prison terms for activists who have worked with the organisations, anyone who donated to them, and even those who simply shared the groups’ materials. Navalny, Putin’s most ardent political foe, was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — an accusation that Russian officials reject. In February, Navalny was given a 21⁄2-year prison term for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he says is politically motivated. In a statement posted on his Instagram account after the verdict, Navalny denounced the hearing as a travesty of justice and vowed to continue defying the Kremlin. “When corruption is the foundation of the government, fighters against corruption are cast as extremists,” the statement said. “We will not abandon our goals and ideas. It’s our country and we don’t have another one.” The US State Department condemned the court’s ruling, saying “Russia has effectively criminalised one of the country’s few remaining independent political movements.” The court session was held behind closed doors on grounds that classified materials would be discussed. The judge rejected a defence appeal to allow Navalny to take part via a video link from prison and dismissed other motions by the defence. Lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov said during the hearing that the prosecutors’ motion was intended to bar Navalny’s associates from running for public office. “This case has been linked to the law that bans all those who are connected with the Foundation for Fighting Corruption from getting elected,” Smirnov said. Lawyers said they would appeal the ruling. The September vote is widely seen as an important part of Putin’s efforts to cement his rule ahead of the 2024 presidential election. The 68-year-old leader, who has been in power for more than two decades, pushed through constitutional changes last year that would potentially allow him to hold onto power until 2036.