State prosecutors in Russia have asked a court to label groups linked to jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny as “extremist organisations”, a move that would ban them and expose activists to long prison terms.
Friday’s move, if approved, would mark one of the most serious steps taken by authorities yet to target the network of groups set up by the staunch critic of President Vladimir Putin who is on a hunger strike as he serves a two and a half year jail term.
Russia’s list of “extremist organisations” currently consists of 33 entities, including the ISIL (ISIS) armed group, the Taliban and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The presence of these groups is banned in Russia and participation in them can result in lengthy prison terms.
People caught organising the activity of such groups can be jailed for up to 10 years, people taking part in them can be held criminally liable and the groups themselves are prohibited from any kind of banking activity.
The Moscow state prosecutor said it had decided to appeal to the court after studying Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and campaign groups that he has built up in regions across the country.
“Under the guise of liberal slogans, these organisations are engaged in forming the conditions to destabilise the social and social-political situation,” the prosecutor said in a statement.
An outspoken Putin critic for years, Navalny has organised nationwide street protests and carved out a following online with investigations alleging corruption by senior Russian officials.
The 44-year-old, who was barred from standing for election against Putin in 2018, was jailed in February for parole violations he said were trumped up.
Navalny was arrested at the border as he returned to Russia from Germany where he had been recovering from poisoning by a nerve agent.
Most of his most prominent allies are either abroad or in Russia facing charges for violations relating to a series of demonstrations that were staged to protest against his jailing.
Separately on Friday, a court sentenced a cameraman who worked for Navalny’s team of activists to two years in jail for inciting “extremism”.
The charge related to an anti-government tweet he wrote after the self-immolation of a Russian journalist.
Navalny’s allies promised to carry on their work.
“Putin has just announced full-scale mass political repression in Russia,” key aide and head of Navalny’s regional network Leonid Volkov wrote on Twitter shortly after the announcement from prosecutors.
In a statement on Facebook, Volkov and FBK director Ivan Zhdanov said they had no doubts about the ruling that a “Putin’s court” would make but said they will continue their work “peacefully, publicly and effectively”.