Russia: Authorities move to outlaw Aleksei Navalny’s organizations as “extremist”
Responding to the news that the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office has suspended the activities of Aleksei Navalny’s regional offices until the court rules whether they should be banned as “extremist” alongside two other organizations created by Navalny, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, said:
“The audacity and scale of this cynical attack are unprecedented, effectively suppressing the rights to freedom of expression and association of thousands. If and when the decision is taken to outlaw the targeted organizations, Navalny’s supporters, who are effectively the largest political opposition group in the country, could face criminal prosecution for any legitimate political activism or human rights work.
If and when the decision is taken to outlaw the targeted organizations, Navalny’s supporters [...] could face criminal prosecution for any legitimate political activism or human rights work
“Dozens of employees of Navalny's headquarters working across 34 Russian regions and hundreds of thousands of Internet users who have shared Navalny’s groups’ materials on social networks, are potential targets for severe reprisals.
“The objective is clear: to raze Aleksei Navalny’s movement to the ground while he languishes in prison. It is symbolic and particularly telling of the Russian authorities’ cowardice that the court proceedings have been pronounced ‘secret’ and will be closed to the public without sufficient safeguards of fairness.”
On 26 April, the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office ruled to suspend the activities of the regional headquarters of Aleksei Navalny until the Moscow City Court rules on their request to ban three organizations linked to Aleksei Navalny as “extremist” – the Anti-Corruption Foundation (known as FBK in Russian), the Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation and “Navalny’s headquarters”. According to the Prosecutor’s press office, these organizations are “engaged in creating conditions for destabilizing the social and the socio-political situation under the guise of liberal slogans”. The court decided to hold the hearing behind closed doors due to case files allegedly containing “state secrets”.
In the absence of judicial independence, and deep politicization of the Russian justice system by the executive, there is little if any hope that the court will conduct the hearing in accordance with international standards or refuse to grant the Prosecutor’s Office’s request. According to Russian legislation, if the relevant ruling is adopted, all activities of these groups will be prohibited and their assets confiscated.
Membership of “extremist” organizations is punishable by up to 12 years’ imprisonment. Financing such organizations may lead to up to 10 years in jail, and public use of their symbols and logos risks a year-long ban on running for elected office. The Anti-Corruption Foundation has been uniquely successful in Russia in its crowdfunding, having secured tens of thousands of donors. All these people may be at risk of prosecution, and there have been cases in Russia when criminal sanctions, including prison sentences, have been applied retroactively – for financial contributions made prior to a group being designated “extremist”.