Russian prosecutors have frozen the activity of jailed Kremlin critic Alexi Navalny’s regional groups – pending a court ruling on whether to label them extremist.
On Monday, a court met for a preliminary hearing in the Russian capital of Moscow to consider a prosecutor’s request to label Mr Navalny‘s groups as extremist.
Prosecutors asked the court to prohibit the imprisoned Russian opposition leader’s groups from publishing anything online, organising protests and taking part in elections, according to Mr Navalny’s chief of staff Leonid Volkov.
Moscow City Court is expected to rule in the coming days on the request to officially outlaw the backbone of Mr Navalny’s political movement – the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) – on the grounds that it is an extremist group.
The ruling could mean authorities would have the legal power to arrest and jail Mr Navalny’s supporters and block their bank accounts simply for being activists in the foundation.
Lawyer Ivan Pavlov, whose legal team is handling the case, said the hearings are being held behind closed doors as authorities have classified some of the case details.
“We all understand perfectly that there is no extremism in [our] work… The extremism allegation is being used purely as a pretext for political repression,” Mr Volkov said.
He said the group would continue its work, including investigations into corruption, adding that it was “not going to give up”.
Mr Navalny, 44, was arrested earlier this year and is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence in a prison some 60 miles (97km) east of Moscow.
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He began a hunger strike on 31 March to protest against the prison authorities’ refusal to let his doctors visit after he developed severe back pain and numbness in his legs.
On Friday, the politician said he would start gradually ending a hunger strike after receiving medical care.
It comes after another round of mass demonstrations demanding his freedom swept across Russia last week.
His allies have continued with his “smart voting” strategy, supporting politicians outside of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, who they believe can beat the ruling party candidates, as well as urging Russians to vote for them.
Russians are set to vote in the country’s general elections in September.
“We have time, desire and strength to restructure our work, to get the smart voting to the elections and beat the United Russia,” Mr Volkov added.
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