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Russia expected to outlaw Alexei Navalny’s groups

Russia expected to outlaw Alexei Navalny’s groups
Alexei Navalny
MOSCOW, JUN 9 (AP) | Publish Date: 6/9/2021 1:29:53 PM IST

A Moscow court is expected on Wednesday to outlaw the organizations founded by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, part of authorities’ efforts to muzzle critics ahead of a crucial parliamentary election in September.

Prosecutors have asked the Moscow City court to designate Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his sprawling network of regional offices across Russia as extremist organizations. 

In conjunction with a new law, the ruling would bar people associated with the groups from running for public office, derailing the hopes of Navalny’s allies of seeking parliamentary seats.

The extremism label would also mean that activists who have worked with the organizations, anyone who donated to them, and even those who simply shared the groups’ materials could be prosecuted and receive lengthy prison terms.

Navalny, the most adamant political foe of President Vladimir Putin, was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months convalescing after a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin - accusations that Russian officials reject. 

In February, Navalny was given a 2 1/2-year prison term for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he dismissed as politically driven.

The court hearing on his organizations was held behind closed doors on the grounds that classified materials would be discussed.

Ivan Pavlov, who heads a team of defence lawyers in the case, said the court is expected to issue its verdict on Wednesday. The judge has rejected a defence appeal to allow Navalny to take part in the hearings via a video link from prison and dismissed other motions by the defence. “There is no talk about the equal representation of the parties in the case,” he said.

Navalny’s offices in dozens of Russian regions already shut down in April after the prosecutors issued an injunction to suspend their activities pending the court’s ruling, but the opposition leader’s associates have vowed to continue their work in different formats.

His foundation, started 10 years ago, has relentlessly targeted senior government officials with colorful and widely watched videos that detail corruption allegations against them. One of its latest productions, which has received 117 million views on YouTube, claimed that a lavish palace on the shores of the Black Sea was built for Putin through an elaborate corruption scheme. The Kremlin has denied any links to Putin.

Navalny also has relied on his offices across Russia to organize anti-Kremlin protests and implement his Smart Voting strategy - a project to support the candidates most likely to defeat those from the Kremlin’s dominant United Russia party in various elections.

During Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutors accused Navalny’s organizations of staging protests to overthrow the government.

Just as the Moscow court was considering the prosecutors’ request to outlaw Navalny’s organizations, Russian lawmakers have fast-tracked a new law that banned members of organizations declared extremist from running for public office. The law was signed by Putin last week - and combined with the expected court ruling will dash the hopes of several of Navalny’s associates who have declared their intention to run for the Russian parliament in the September 2019 election.

 

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