The Moscow-based Memorial human rights center has condemned a court decision to label a group of organizations associated with jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny as extremist.
In a statement on June 11, Memorial called the court's decision to label Navalny's regional campaign network, along with his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and his Citizens' Rights Defense Foundation (FZPG), "another step toward the full replacement of political discussion and political competition with repression."
"We consider the decision to ban these public organizations as purely political, violating the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens. It brazenly contradicts freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression. Its obvious consequence will be politically motivated criminal prosecutions and administrative repressions. Its goal is obvious -- the fear of such deliberately used sanctions will paralyze peaceful political opposition, as well as, wider public activities and public criticism of the authorities," Memorial's statement says. The Moscow City Court handed down its ruling to label Navalny's organizations as extremist late on June 9, marking a watershed moment for Russia’s opposition as September parliamentary elections loom.
The decision prevents people associated with the FBK and Navalny's other groups from seeking public office. It also makes it illegal to hold membership or participate in the activities of the groups tied to Navalny, who is serving a 2 1/2-year sentence in a prison outside of Moscow on fraud charges he says are trumped up. His supporters could now also face fines and jail time for displaying symbols associated with the groups.
In April, tens of thousands of people protested for his release, following similar mass protests in January against his arrest. Prosecutors in Moscow have claimed that "under the guise of liberal slogans," Navalny-linked organizations were "engaged in creating conditions for destabilizing the social and sociopolitical situation." On June 11, lawyer Vladimir Voronin said his client, FBK director Ivan Zhdanov, who is currently residing in Lithuania, had been added to the Interior Ministry's wanted list on unspecified charges.
In late March, Zhdanov's 66-year-old father, Yury Zhdanov, was arrested after police searched his home in the city of Rostov-on-Don.
Investigators accuse Yury Zhdanov of recommending that a Russian town’s administration provide a local woman with a subsidized apartment, though it later turned out that the woman's family had previously received housing allocations. Ivan Zhdanov has said that his father's arrest was a move to exert pressure on him because of his ties to Navalny.
Russian authorities have ramped up pressure on dissent ahead of the elections in September, with opinion polls showing support for the ruling United Russia party waning.
Navalny's foundation has relentlessly targeted senior government officials over the past decade with widely watched videos that expose alleged corruption. His political network has been instrumental in implementing a "smart voting" strategy -- a project designed to promote candidates most likely to defeat Kremlin-linked figures.