Prosecutors had asked Moscow City Court to brand opposition leader’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and network of regional offices as ‘extremist’ groups.
A Russian court has outlawed the organisations founded by opposition leader Alexey Navalny, labelling them as “extremist”.
The Moscow City Court’s ruling on Wednesday, effective immediately, prevents people associated with Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption (FBK) and his sprawling network of regional offices across Russia from seeking public office.
“It was found that these organizations not only disseminated information that incited hatred and enmity against government officials, but also committed extremist actions,” a spokesman for the prosecutors, Alexei Zhafyarov, said outside the court.
The label also means that activists who have worked with the organisations, anyone who donated to them, and even those who simply shared the groups’ materials could be prosecuted and receive lengthy prison terms.
Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Moscow, said the court delivered its ruling after a “mammoth” session that went on for nearly 13 hours.
He said the decision “effectively” dealt “the final blow for Navalny’s political organisation that he spent years building up to try and counter President Vladimir Putin”.
In recent years, the FBK has pressured the Kremlin by publishing investigations into high-level corruption among the political elite. Such probes have in turn spurred massive street demonstrations.
The extremism label also carries lengthy prison terms for activists who have worked with the organizations, anyone who donated to them, and even those who simply shared the groups’ materials [Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP]
The court ruling “puts Navalny’s organisation in the same category here in Russia as al-Qaeda, far-right groups and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Smith said ahead of the September elections, Putin himself “remains popular but his United Russia party is not so popular, and there were concerns that it would lose seats”.
“This is another attempt to head off any threat to them and cut off vocal opposition”, he added, noting that Putin’s effective opponents were now either in jail, in exile or facing charges.
“So in every turn, people who previously have been able to speak out in Russia against Putin and the ruling party have been silenced.”
Lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov also said during the hearing, which stretched into the evening hours, 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.
The court session was held behind closed doors on the grounds that classified materials would be discussed. The judge rejected a defense appeal to allow Navalny to take part via a video link from prison and dismissed other motions by the defense.
Navalny, the most ardent political foe of President Vladimir Putin, 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, the 44-year-old opposition leader was given a prison term of two years and a half for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he dismissed as politically motivated.
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. According to the prosecutor, pro-Navalny groups were plotting to destabilise the political situation in Russia and working to promote a popular revolution.
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.
Russian court bans Alexey Navalny groups
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