Russia opens criminal case against Kremlin critic Navalny’s ally

Lyubov Sobol is accused of violently trespassing when she tried to doorstep an alleged secret agent in Moscow earlier this week.

The case against Sobol is the latest in a clampdown on Kremlins critics before next year's parliamentary election [File: Dmitri Lovetsky/AP Photo]
The case against Sobol is the latest in a clampdown on Kremlins critics before next year's parliamentary election [File: Dmitri Lovetsky/AP Photo]

Russian authorities have opened a criminal case against a close ally of dissident Alexei Navalny on a trespassing charge, according to an official statement issued on Friday.

Lyubov Sobol, 33, is accused of violently trespassing when she tried to doorstep an alleged secret agent who Navalny says was part of a plot to kill him.

Investigators accused Sobol of trespassing “with the use of violence or a threat to use it” after she rang the doorbell of the alleged agent from Federal Security Service (FSB), the country’s main security agency.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of two years in jail.

Sobol, a renowned voice of political opposition in Russia, was initially taken in for questioning as a witness in the probe, but later on Friday Navalny ally Ivan Zhdanov said she became a suspect in the case.

“Lyubov Sobol is now officially a suspect in the criminal case, her status has changed,” Zhanov wrote on Twitter, adding that she was being taken into police custody for 48 hours.

Sobol’s lawyer Vladimir Voronin confirmed this information to AFP news agency.

Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer in Navalny’s team working to expose corruption among senior Russian officials, regularly hosts YouTube videos that garner hundreds of thousands of views [File: Pavel Golovkin/AP]

‘Hysterical reaction’

Russia’s Investigative Committee – which probes major crimes – said in a statement on Friday that Sobol and several others repeatedly tried to enter the “apartment of an elderly woman” in eastern Moscow, adding that they were wearing uniforms of the country’s consumer watchdog.

The statement said that Sobol tricked a delivery courier into letting her inside the apartment block and then forced her way into the woman’s flat when she opened the door.

Navalny’s team maintains that Sobol had been trying to confront an individual whom Navalny accuses of having attempted to murder him with the chemical weapon Novichok in August as part of a state-orchestrated hit squad.

Just after 7:00 am (04:00 GMT) on Friday, the 33-year-old opposition activist posted a video on Twitter from inside her apartment before going incommunicado.

In the video her seven-year-old daughter can be heard crying as someone pounds on the front door, demanding it be opened.

Investigators confiscated Sobol’s tech devices as well as her daughter’s mobile phone, her associates said.

On Monday, Navalny said he had tricked an alleged chemical weapons expert with the FSB named Konstantin Kudryavtsev during a phone call into admitting that the domestic intelligence agency had sought to kill him this summer by placing poison in his underwear.

Later Monday, Sobol went to the Moscow apartment where Kudryavtsev is believed to live. She was detained by police at the scene and questioned for hours.

Navalny, centre, wife Yulia, left of him, and opposition activist Lyubov Sobol, second from left, take part in a march in Moscow [File: Pavel Golovkin/AP Photo]
Navalny, 44, said Sobol had only rung the doorbell of the alleged FSB security service officer on Monday evening.

He said the Russian authorities’ “hysterical reaction” only proved their guilt.

“You ring the door of a killer. They break down yours and take you away for interrogation,” he said in a statement on his website.

The FSB says Navalny’s call with Kudryavtsev was “fake” but has not denied that he works for the agency.

The Kremlin has admitted that security agents have tailed Navalny but denied any attempts to poison him.

‘We will prevail’

The move against Sobol is the latest in a crackdown on the Kremlin’s opponents before next year’s parliamentary election.

Sobol has been seeking to run, although outspoken critics are often barred from standing. She had tried to run for the Moscow city council in 2019, but was not allowed to register as a candidate. That dispute evoked mass protests.

Sobol, a lawyer in Navalny’s team working to expose corruption among senior Russian officials, regularly hosts YouTube videos that garner hundreds of thousands of views.

British broadcaster BBC had named Sobol among the world’s 100 most influential women last year.

On August 20 this year, Navalny fell violently ill on a domestic Russian flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk en route to Moscow.

The plane made an emergency landing in the Siberian city of Omsk, where Navalny was initially treated. Two days later, he was medically evacuated to Berlin.

Navalny has said he would return to Russia hoping to capitalise on a higher profile in the wake of the poisoning case, which has raised tension between Moscow and Western nations.

Navalny, who is undergoing physical therapy in Germany, said late Thursday he was as optimistic as ever.

“I am absolutely convinced that we will prevail,” he said during a YouTube broadcast hosted by Sobol.

“And even though life puts a bit of pressure on us we will come out even stronger.”

Laboratories in European states Germany, France and Sweden have determined that Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent in a murder attempt. Russia has denied the claim.

Source: News Agencies

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