MOSCOW — A Moscow court on Wednesday night outlawed the organizations founded by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny by labeling them extremist, the latest move in a campaign to silence dissent and bar Kremlin critics from running for parliament in September.
The Moscow City Court’s ruling, effective immediately, prevents people associated with Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his sprawling regional network from seeking public office. Many of Navalny’s allies had hoped to run for parliamentary seats in the Sept. 19 election. The ruling, part of a multipronged Kremlin strategy to steamroll the opposition, sends a tough message one week before President Vladimir Putin holds a summit meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva.
The extremism label also carries lengthy prison terms for activists who have worked with the organizations, anyone who donated to them, and even those who simply shared the groups’ materials.
Navalny, Putin’s most ardent political foe, was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — an accusation that Russian officials reject. In February, Navalny was given a 2 1/2-year prison term for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he dismissed as politically motivated. In a statement posted on his Instagram account after the verdict, Navalny denounced the hearing as a travesty of justice and vowed to continue defying the Kremlin.
“When corruption is the foundation of the government, fighters against corruption are cast as extremists,” the statement said. “We will not abandon our goals and ideas. It’s our country and we don’t have another one.”
The U.S. State Department condemned the court’s ruling, saying that “Russia has effectively criminalized one of the country’s few remaining independent political movements.”
“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,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The court session, lasting more than 12 hours, was held behind closed doors on grounds that classified materials would be discussed.