MOSCOW – Senior lawyer defending Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny in an extremism case that could bar Mr. Navalny’s opposition movement was arrested on Friday, latest example of a remarkable Kremlin escalation in his long campaign to quell dissent. .
The lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, was arrested after the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, raided his hotel room in Moscow at 6:40 a.m., his colleagues said. He was accused of leaking details of a law enforcement investigation unrelated to Mr Navalny and was sentenced to three months in prison. Mr Pavlov’s colleagues said agents also searched their group’s offices in St. Petersburg and broke down the door to their tech manager’s apartment.
Mr Pavlov, one of Russia’s best-known human rights lawyers, has frequently represented high-profile defendants in cases involving the FSB, a successor to the KGB which wields enormous influence in Russia. His arrest shook the Russian activist community as most of the lawyers were able to continue operating even as the authorities stepped up their crackdown on the opposition.
“Ivan’s arrest is linked to his professional activity,” a group of lawyers said in an open letter on Friday. “We believe that these actions of the police are aimed exclusively at frightening Ivan and his colleagues in order to force them to reject an active position in the defense of their clients.”
Dmitry S. Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin, said he did not know the reasons for Mr. Pavlov’s arrest and could not comment on it. But he denied that the recent wave of pressure from law enforcement on opposition figures, activists, journalists and now lawyers was part of a single campaign against criticism of the Kremlin.
“This is not all part of a unified trend,” Peskov told reporters. “These are different episodes and different cases.”
Mr Pavlov heads a legal rights group called Team 29, named after the article in Russia’s constitution that guarantees freedom of thought and expression. Among the group’s clients is Ivan Safronov, a former journalist accused of spying for NATO last year.
Team 29 said Mr Pavlov was under investigation for allegedly leaking confidential details of the Safronov case to the media.
But the raids came just four days after Mr Pavlov defended Mr Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure. On Monday, Team 29 announced it would represent Mr. Navalny’s organizations in a lawsuit filed in April by Moscow prosecutors to ban organizations as extremist groups.
“Under the guise of liberal slogans,” prosecutors said, “these organizations are creating the conditions to destabilize the social and socio-political situation.”
Mr Pavlov said on Monday that his team would divulge as much information as possible about the extremism case against Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and its regional offices, even though authorities had classified the evidence as a top secret. ‘State.
“We know very well what a state secret is and we know how to work with it,” Pavlov said. “We also know what information cannot be classified under any circumstances.”
Mr Navalny returned to Russia in January after recovering from poisoning which Western authorities said was an attempted assassination of the Russian state. Since then, the Russian authorities have entered a new phase in their year-long campaign to suppress the opposition, increasing their pressure on journalists and imprisoning or forcing into exile Mr. Navalny’s associates. Mr Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in February for violating parole for what rights groups say was a politically motivated conviction for embezzlement.
Anticipating that Mr Navalny’s movement would soon be banned as an extremist, the opposition leader’s associates said on Thursday they were shutting down their nationwide network of 40 regional offices.
The crackdown on dissent has accompanied rising tensions between Russia and the West, leaving regular Russians increasingly isolated from the outside world. In response to the April 15 US sanctions against Russia for hacking and other “harmful foreign activities,” Russia responded by banning, among other things, the US Embassy in Moscow from employing people who are not. not US citizens.
The US embassy said on Friday that the move had forced it to lay off three-quarters of its consular staff. As a result, the embassy said it will stop processing almost all non-immigrant visa applications in Russia, such as for tourism or business travel.
Ivan Nechepurenko contributed to the reporting.