With Russia’s parliamentary elections just three months away, the Russian government has stepped up its crackdown on political opponents and critics of President Vladimir Putin.
In April, the arrest of Russian anti-corruption activist and Putin’s foremost critic Alexey Navalny upon his return from Germany, where he was treated for poisoning by Novichok nerve agent, resulted in the largest unauthorized protests of Putin’s tenure. Since then, Russian authorities have gone to great lengths to debilitate or eliminate nearly all of the country's opposition organizations.
The most significant blow to the opposition came on June 9, when a Moscow court ruled that Alexey Navalny's political offices, as well as his Anti-Corruption Foundation, were “extremist” organizations. As a result, the Foundation is to be liquidated and its property transferred into the ownership of the Russian Federation, while the political offices were ordered to immediately cease all activities. Anyone continuing the organization’s work, or attempting to revive it, faces as much as a six year prison term.
The United States condemns the court’s decision, said State Department Spokesperson Ned Price in a written statement. “This designation puts staff members, volunteers, and thousands of supporters across Russia at risk of criminal prosecution and imprisonment for exercising fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, and it further restricts the ability of opposition candidates to appear on the ballot in the September Duma elections. With this action, Russia has effectively criminalized one of the country’s few remaining independent political movements,” said Spokesperson Price.
He noted that the dismantling of Alexey Navalny’s organization is indicative of the Russian government’s widening crackdown on political opposition, civil society, and independent media. “Mr. Navalny himself remains in poor health, imprisoned on politically fabricated grounds.We call again for his immediate and unconditional release,” he said.
“We urge Russia to cease the abuse of “extremism” designations to target nonviolent organizations, end its repression of Mr. Navalny and his supporters, and honor its international obligations to respect and ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Russian people, like all people, have the right to speak freely, form peaceful associations to common ends, exercise religious freedom, and have their voices heard through free and fair elections."