Human Rights Watch (HRW) has sharply criticized a “scandalous” request by Russian prosecutors to have the Anti-Corruption Foundation of imprisoned opposition politician Aleksei Navalny banned as an “extremist” organization.
“If the designation is imposed, these organizations’ activities would be banned, and their staff members and supporters could face criminal prosecution and possible prison time,” the New York-based watchdog said in a statement on April 19.
On April 16, the Moscow prosecutor’s office asked the Moscow City Court to label as “extremist” three organizations tied to Navalny — the Anti-Corruption Foundation, the Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation, and Navalny’s regional headquarters. Prosecutors said the organizations were “engaged in creating conditions for destabilizing the social and sociopolitical situation under the guise of their liberal slogans.”
“The prosecutor’s office should immediately withdraw its request and end this latest attempt to silence and oppress any opposition and dissent in the country,” the statement said.
Under Russian law, membership in or funding of an “extremist” organization is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“Pursuing an extremist label against these organizations takes the Kremlin’s persecution of vocal critics to a new low,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW’s Europe and Central Asia director.
“It is ill-founded, scandalous, and another sign of the Kremlin’s rejection of fundamental democratic rights and determination to hold onto power at all costs.”
The move is the latest in a series of assaults on Navalny since he suffered a nerve-agent poisoning attack in August 2020. He and his supporters blame that attack on Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives acting at the behest of authoritarian President Vladimir Putin.
Amnesty International in a statement on April 17 also criticized the move.
“Tens of thousands of peaceful activists and the staff of Aleksei Navalny’s organizations are in grave danger,” Natalia Zviagina, head of Amnesty’s Moscow office, said in the statement. “If their organizations are deemed ‘extremist’ they will all be at imminent risk of criminal prosecution.”
The Amnesty statement also decried Russia’s “long history of abusing ‘anti-extremism’ legislation and said that if the courts grant the prosecutors’ request on labelling Navalny’s organization “extremist,” “the result will likely be one of the most serious blows for the rights to freedom of expression and association in Russia’s post-Soviet history.”
Navalny spent weeks in Germany recuperating from the attack. When he returned to Russia in January, he was arrested and later sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges he says were trumped up to hinder his political activity.
Navalny has been on a hunger strike in prison since March 31, demanding he be examined by his own doctor amid what his supporters have described as a “deliberate campaign” by prison officials to undermine his health.