Russian court rules Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's groups to be "extremists"

Russian court rules Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s groups to be “extremists”

The anti-corruption organization and regional campaign offices headed by jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny have been declared “extremists”, a Russian court ruled on Wednesday evening.

The action by the Moscow City Court is part of a sweeping crackdown on Navalny, the Kremlin’s fiercest critic, and his Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov accused prosecutors of pushing the case, strictly to ban candidates from the group from standing in the parliamentary elections on September 13.

“This case is linked to the law which prohibits anyone connected with the Anti-Corruption Foundation from getting elected,” Smirnov told the court.

The case was heard behind closed doors, without access to the media, as authorities said it contained classified information.

FBK was previously designated as a “foreign agent” by the Russian Justice Ministry in 2019, requiring it to submit regular reports on sources of funding and its objectives.

As it was widely expected that FBK would be labeled an “extremist,” Leonid Volkov, chief of staff of the Navalny team, announced in April the closure of regional campaign offices in Navalny, saying their activity is now “impossible”, because it endangers the staff, after he said that their network of offices has become “a personal enemy for [President] Vladimir Poutine. “

He added that there will be no “rebranding” of campaign offices to escape the “extremism” decision.

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The court’s decision comes just months before the Russian parliamentary elections in September. Although neither Navalny himself nor his allies were allowed to run for political office in Russia, his “smart voting” strategy, supporting politicians outside the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, proved to be effective in beating some candidates of the ruling party.

Labeling the regional Navalny campaign groups, which were instrumental in the “smart vote” strategy, as “extremist” would prevent such activity in the future.

Navalny, 44, was jailed in February for two and a half years on charges he called political. He was arrested on his return to Moscow in January after undergoing treatment in Germany for poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok which he attributes to the Kremlin. The Russian government has denied any involvement.

The opposition leader complained of back and leg pain while in detention, saying he was not receiving adequate medical help, which Russian authorities deny.

In March, he went on a hunger strike in protest, but ended it more than three weeks later after his health deteriorated significantly. Tens of thousands of people gathered across Russia to protest the treatment of Navalny in detention in April.

Navalny’s detention and treatment in prison sparked an international outcry, including from the United States, adding to already serious tensions in Russia’s relations with the West.

David K. Lee and The Associated Press contributed.