Russian finance watchdog adds Navalny network to ‘extremist’ list

Move comes amid intense pressure from Moscow on jailed Kremlin critic’s political movement.

The Kremlin has cracked down on Navalny's organisations since he was arrested in January and jailed the following month [File: Anton Vaganov/Reuters]

Russia’s financial monitoring agency has added Alexey Navalny’s network of regional campaign offices to a list of organisations involved in “terrorism and extremism”.

Rosfinmonitoring’s move on Friday came as Moscow piles the pressure on Navalny’s opposition movement while the Kremlin critic languishes in jail.

On Thursday, amid the tensions, Navalny’s team said they would disband the campaign offices before May 17, when judicial authorities are due to decide whether to outlaw them – and the 44-year-old’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption (FBK) – as “extremist”.

The Moscow prosecutor’s office petition, if approved, would lead to Navalny’s groups being placed on a level footing with organisations such as ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda in the eyes of the Russian legal system.

Such a designation would allow authorities to freeze activists’ bank accounts and expose members and supporters to lengthy prison terms, hampering their efforts to unseat Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Moscow stifles Navalny’s movement

In recent weeks, the work of Navalny’s political organisations has been severely curtailed.

Earlier this week, the Moscow prosecutor’s office issued an injunction ordering his regional offices to suspend their activities pending the outcome of the May 17 hearing.

A court in the capital also imposed restrictions on the FBK, including partially barring it from accessing its bank accounts, organising protests and publishing media articles.

In an apparent effort to further stifle Navalny’s movement, Russian security forces on Friday detained Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer defending the FBK in the extremism case.

“I was interrogated as a suspect,” Pavlov told reporters outside a hotel in Moscow. He walked out unguarded and headed to another interrogation with Russia’s Investigative Committee.

Security forces also raided the office of Pavlov’s legal team in St Petersburg, his colleagues said on social media.

Pavlov, who specialises in treason, espionage and other sensitive cases, said he had been accused of disclosing classified information relating to a continuing investigation against one of his clients, former journalist Ivan Safronov.

The offence is punishable by up to three months in jail, Pavlov’s legal team said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied having any knowledge of the arrest.

“We don’t have any information, we don’t know the reason for the arrest and how it happened, what this lawyer is accused of,” he said.

On Thursday, Pavlov represented Navalny’s FBK in a Moscow court hearing convened to consider the extremism case.

The hearing was held behind closed doors as authorities say the case contains classified information.

Putin a ‘thieving king’

Navalny also appeared in court on Thursday, albeit in a different Moscow court via video link, as part of a separate hearing.

He looked gaunt and drained after ending a weeks-long hunger strike.

Navalny began the strike in protest against prison authorities who he claims failed to provide him with proper medical care after he complained of illness.

He used his virtual appearance at the hearing, which was linked to his appeal against a defamation case, to launch a verbal attack against President Vladimir Putin.

He accused the leader of trying to “rob” Russia’s people and turn them into “slaves” in a bid to rule the vast country “forever”, likening him to a “thieving king”.

“I want to tell the dear court that your king is naked,” said Navalny, who ended his 24-day hunger strike last week.

“Already millions of people are screaming about it. Twenty years of incompetent governing have led to the following result; there is a crown slipping from his ears, there are lies on TV, we have spent trillions of rubles and our country continues to slide into poverty.”

Navalny’s hearing was over the conviction handed to him in February for allegedly insulting a World War II veteran. He has dismissed the case as politically motivated.

The Kremlin critic is currently serving a two and a half year jail sentence handed to him in February for alleged parole violations of a 2014 embezzlement conviction, which he has also dismissed as fabricated.

He was initially arrested in January upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin.

His imprisonment led to anti-government protests that were the biggest public show of defiance against Moscow in recent years.

Russian authorities deny any involvement in the nerve agent incident and have questioned whether Navalny was even poisoned.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies