Russia has banned organizations founded by imprisoned opposition activists Alexei Navalny saying they are “extremists,” a label that bans their supporters from running in elections and threatens them with years in prison.
A Moscow court said Wednesday that the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and its national network of political activists should be classified alongside Isis and al-Qaeda, in a move that rights groups say is part of a Kremlin campaign to silence opposition to President Vladimir Putin ahead of the September parliamentary elections.
Navalny, Putin’s top critic, was arrested in January and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison after his return to Russia after recovering from a poisoning by a nerve agent who said it was an attempt to assassinate him. assassination ordered by the Kremlin.
“The FBK and Navalny’s headquarters are recognized as extremist organizations,” the group’s lawyers said. “As a result, their activities are banned on the territory of Russia, and all employees who continue to work for them are threatened with a real time in prison.”
According to partial transcripts provided by FBK lawyers, Russian prosecutors argued that Navalny’s groups, because of their activism and the organization of protests against the incarceration of Navalny and Putin, “have created conditions for destabilize the social and socio-political situation under the guise of their liberal slogans … take the people on the streets to change the government by force ”.
Prosecutors also said FBK payments, made to help protesters detained by police with legal rights, should be classified as “financing extremist activities,” suggesting that those who received the funds may be targeted. to the prosecution.
The court session that lasted more than 12 hours was held in private following the decision that some of the materials in question were secret. FBK’s legal team said it would appeal against the decision.
It comes days after Putin signed into force a law that would make it illegal for members or supporters of “Extremist” organizations to participate in Russian elections. Anyone who is a member, donates or shares materials created by such organizations is open to criminal prosecution and up to six years in prison under Russian law.
Navalny’s regional network, which has offices in dozens of cities in Russia’s province, was closed legally in April pending the court’s decision. 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 the so-called smart vote – an initiative aimed at dissatisfied voters to support candidates more likely to defeat incumbent politicians from the ruling party. the United Russia government.
FBK, founded by Navalny a decade ago, has published a series of investigations into alleged financial corruption by senior Russian government officials.
In January, after Navalny’s arrest, it is has published an inquiry in what he said was a $ 1.4 billion palace on the Black Sea built by Putin by an oligarchic gang, which was viewed 117 million times on YouTube.
The Kremlin has denied any link between Putin or his family and the palace and has denied any involvement in the Navalny poisoning.