The anti-corruption and regional election campaign offices of the detained Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny are “extremist” organizations, a Russian court ruled on Wednesday evening.
The Moscow City Court’s lawsuit is part of a widespread raid against Navalny, the Kremlin’s fiercest critic, and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK).
An attorney for the organization, Yevgeny Smirnov, accused prosecutors of strictly pushing the case to expel the group’s candidates for the September 13 parliamentary elections.
“This case has been linked to the law prohibiting anyone associated with the Anti-Corruption Foundation from being elected,” said Smirnov in court.
The court case was held behind closed doors with no media access because authorities said it contained classified information.
The Russian Ministry of Justice referred to FBK as “foreign agent“Required in 2019 to report regularly on their funding sources and goals.
As the FBK was widely expected to be labeled “extremist”, Leonid Volkov, chief of staff of Navalny’s team, announced in April the closure of Navalny regional election offices. Their activities have become “impossible” because employees are at risk after the office network has become “Vladimir Putin’s personal enemy”.
Volkov said the campaign offices would not be renamed to avoid the “extremism” judgment.
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Russia’s parliamentary elections are due in September, and while neither Navalny nor his allies have been allowed to run for political office, his “smart vote” strategy, which supports politicians outside of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, has been effective in winning over some ruling parties to beat candidates.
Labeling the regional election campaign groups in Navalny, who played a key role in the “smart voting” strategy, as “extremist” would thwart such activities in the future.
In February, 44-year-old Navalny was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for political motives. He was arrested on his return to Moscow in January after being treated in Germany for poisoning with the neurotoxin Novichok, which he blamed on the Kremlin. The government denies any involvement.
While in detention, Navalny complained about pain in his back and one leg and said that he was not receiving adequate medical help – something the Russian authorities deny.
He went on a hunger strike in March to protest, but ended more than three weeks later after his health deteriorated significantly. In April, tens of thousands of people gathered across Russia to protest against Navalny’s treatment in custody.
Navalny’s detention and treatment in prison have sparked an outcry in the US and other countries, adding to the already heavy strains on Russia’s relations with the West.
David K. Li and The Associated Press contributed.