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MOSCOW (AP) – A leading ally of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Thursday that the network of politicians’ offices in Russia was being shut down as authorities sought to have it banned, as well as the Navalny Foundation for the fight against corruption as extremist groups.
The Moscow prosecutor’s office this month asked a court to declare regional offices and the Navalny anti-corruption organization as extremist groups, a label that would ban their activities, expose members and supporters to long sentences prison and would represent a major challenge for Navalny. team.
Leonid Volkov, who as Navalny’s chief strategist heads the regional offices, said on Thursday that preserving the network in its current state “is impossible” because of accusations of extremism, but that renaming them would not help either.
“Unfortunately, it is impossible to work in these conditions. We are officially dismantling the Navalny headquarters network, ”Volkov told the Telegram messaging app.
Volkov’s statement comes amid a sweeping crackdown on Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic, and his organizations. The politician is currently in prison, and dozens of his aides and associates have been arrested, targeted for raids by law enforcement or facing criminal charges.
Earlier this week, the prosecutor’s office issued an injunction ordering offices to suspend operations pending the court ruling, and a Moscow court placed restrictions on the Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Foundation director Ivan Zhdanov said the organization would continue to work despite the restrictions.
Navalny set up a network of offices in dozens of regions when he campaigned to run against Putin in the 2018 presidential election. He was ultimately barred from running but kept the infrastructure in place.
The regional “headquarters”, as the team called them, launched its own investigations into the corruption of local officials and recruited activists, some of whom subsequently ran for public office. The offices have also been instrumental in organizing nationwide rallies to support Navalny this year.
In his statement, Volkov assured supporters that Navalny’s team are not giving up.
“The Navalny headquarters networks no longer exist, but there are dozens of strong and tough regional politicians, thousands of his supporters, there are strong and independent political organizations that will work on surveys and elections, public campaigns and rallies. You will help them and they will be successful, ”Volkov said.
Navalny was arrested in January on his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning he attributes to the Kremlin – charges Russian officials dismiss.
His arrest sparked protests across Russia that turned out to be the biggest show of defiance in years. But they did not prevent authorities from bringing Navalny to justice for violating the terms of a suspended sentence while he was in Germany.
The sentence stemmed from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny called politically motivated. He was sentenced to serve 2.5 years in prison and last month was transferred to a penal colony known for its harsh conditions.
Some of its key allies have been slapped with criminal charges and placed under house arrest, and dozens of its associates in the regions have been the target of detentions and raids.