Russian authorities suspend operation of Navalny's offices

MOSCOW — Russian authorities on Monday ordered the offices of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny to suspend all of their activities pending a court ruling on whether to ban them as an extremist group.

The an injunction by the Moscow prosecutor’s office was posted on social media by Navalny’s allies.

The move is part of the most recent crackdown on Navalny’s organizations — earlier this month, the prosecutor’s office petitioned a court to label his Foundation for Fighting Corruption and network of regional offices as extremist groups.

Such a label would outlaw their activities and expose members and supporters to lengthy prison terms, according to human rights advocates. It is a major challenge for Navalny’s embattled team, with many of its members arrested, targeted by law enforcement with raids or facing criminal charges.

The prosecutors on Monday also asked a Moscow court to restrict the activities of the Foundation for Fighting Corruption by banning it from spreading information in the media, taking part in elections, using banks or organizing public events, according to Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer representing Navalny’s team. The ruling on the motion is expected later on Monday.

Navalny’s allies have rejected the accusations and insisted they are politically motivated. “They’re just screaming here: We’re scared of your activities, we’re scared of your protests,” tweeted Ivan Zhdanov, Navalny’s top ally and director of the Foundation for Fighting Corruption.

Navalny’s foundation was opened 10 years ago and has since targeted high-ranking Russian officials with corruption exposes, many in the form of colorful and widely watched YouTube videos. One of the latest ones, alleging that a lavish palace on the Black Sea shore was built for President Vladimir Putin through an elaborate corruption scheme, has received 116 million views.

In addition to the foundation, in 2017 Navalny set up a vast network of regional offices in dozens of Russian regions when he was campaigning to run against Putin in the 2018 presidential election. He was eventually barred from running, but kept the infrastructure in place.

Soon, these regional “headquarters” began their own investigations of graft by local officials and recruited activists, some of whom would later run for office. They were also instrumental in organizing mass nationwide rallies in Navalny’s support in January and April.

Navalny himself was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — accusations that Russian officials reject.

His arrest triggered nationwide protests that proved to be the biggest show of defiance in years, but didn’t prevent the authorities from promptly putting him on trial for the violating terms of a suspended sentence stemming from a 2014 embezzlement conviction widely believed to be politically motivated. Navalny was ordered to serve 2½ years in prison and last month was transferred to a penal colony east of Moscow, notorious for its harsh conditions.

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