Russia Files New Charges Against Jailed Putin Opponent Alexey Navalny
(Bloomberg) -- Russia filed new charges against jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny using a law that has mostly been applied to cults, as the Kremlin moves to crush dissent ahead of parliamentary elections next month.
Navalny and his allies are accused of creating “a non-profit organization that infringes on the persons and rights of citizens,” Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement Wednesday. The charges carry a maximum sentence of three years in jail.
Navalny is already serving a 2 1/2 year sentence after being convicted in February of parole violations, amid the harshest Kremlin crackdown on dissent in years. Numerous independent media outlets have been shuttered or labeled as “foreign agents” and many opposition activists have fled abroad to avoid criminal charges. Two other Navalny allies named in the criminal probe are already outside the country.
The new charges, under an article usually used against cults, cite Navalny’s use of his Anti-Corruption Foundation to appeal to Russians to participate in unathorized protests early this year. Later, the government banned the group, along with the rest of Navalny’s organizations, as “extremist.”
The increased repressions come in the run-up to parliamentary elections that will be a test of support for President Vladimir Putin. Blocked from registering candidates, the opposition is attempting to undermine the ruling party with its so-called “smart voting” that encourages people to vote for the contender most likely to beat the Kremlin’s choice.
Navalny’s organization dismissed the charges as “stupid” in a post on Telegram. “No one infringes on the identity and rights of citizens as much as Putin himself and his lackeys,” his group said.
An investigation on the new charges was first opened in February, after Navalny was detained upon returning to Russia from Germany while he was recovering from a nerve-agent attack he and Western governments blame on the Kremlin. Russia denies any role in his poisoning.
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