Russia seeks to ban political move by jailed Kremlin critic Navalny


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A Russian court is due to hear a case of “extremism” against the political network of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Monday as Moscow seeks to ban opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

The closed-door hearing is part of a broader crackdown on Putin’s most prominent critic and his supporters after Navalny barely survived poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok last summer.

As part of the effort – which comes a few months before the legislative elections – the lower house is due to begin debating on Tuesday a bill prohibiting members of “extremist” organizations from being elected lawmakers.

In April, prosecutors called for Navalny’s regional network and its Anti-Corruption Foundation to be designated “extremist” organizations, accusing them of plotting to organize a West-backed uprising in Russia.

Such a court ruling would put Navalny and his supporters and backers on par with members of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda group and threaten them with long prison terms.

“The opposition will be crushed,” Abbas Gallyamov, an independent political analyst and former Kremlin speechwriter, told AFP, warning that the official ban on dissent would eventually backfire.

“By destroying the opposition, they destroy their own legitimacy,” said Gallyamov, referring to the Russian authorities.

Navalny became one of the main leaders of the Russian opposition movement ten years ago, leading huge anti-Kremlin rallies sparked by allegations of electoral fraud in 2011.

Established in 2011, the Anti-Corruption Foundation has published numerous surveys on the lavish lifestyles of the Russian elite.

Navalny’s investigation into a Black Sea palace allegedly built by Russian tycoons for Putin has racked up more than 116 million views on YouTube since its release in January. Putin denies that the palace belongs to him.

Even though Navalny was not allowed to run against Putin in a presidential election in 2018, authorities for years tolerated his political movement, which relies on donations from his supporters.

But analysts say the Kremlin is prepared to take no risks ahead of the parliamentary elections in September, as public weariness increases with Putin’s two-decade rule and the coronavirus pandemic exacerbates economic problems.

“Slip into darkness”

“Our country is sliding into obscurity,” Navalny said in a recent post on his Instagram account, which is run by assistants as he serves two and a half years in a penal colony.

“But those who push the country back are historically doomed.”

Ahead of Monday’s hearing, Russian financial monitoring service Rosfinmonitoring added Navalny’s political network to its database of terrorist and extremist organizations.

Navalny’s network had disbanded prior to listing to protect its members and supporters from possible prosecution.

Russian lawmakers have also proposed legislation that would apply retroactively and bar Navalny’s allies from standing in parliamentary elections.

The lower house of parliament, the State Duma, said the bill targets leaders, sponsors and grassroots members of “extremist” organizations.

The legislation can affect not only senior members and activists of Navalny’s political network, but tens of thousands of Russians who have supported his work with donations.

Leaders of these groups will not be able to run for parliamentary elections for five years while members and others involved in their work, including those who helped fund them, will be barred from standing for three years, the government said. State Duma.

Vasily Piskaryov, head of the parliamentary committee on the investigation of foreign interference, said last week that the aim of the legislation was to protect Russian sovereignty.

“Fear of competition”

A senior Navalny associate Lyubov Sobol, who had previously announced his intention to run for parliamentary elections, said the new bill meant that the ruling United Russia party was “terribly afraid of fair competition”.

“Seems like propaganda and forgery can no longer help the darlings of these people,” the 33-year-old political activist said in a Facebook post in early May.

Navalny was arrested in January on his return from Germany after recovering from poisoning he said was orchestrated by the Kremlin. The Kremlin denies the allegation.

He is serving his sentence for embezzlement in a penal colony about 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Moscow.



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