The Kremlin is preparing the deepest attack on Alexei Navalny’s adherents since his opposition leadership roles in 2011, threatening to disband his entire political organization while fighting for his life in a Russian prison.
Using secret evidence, a Moscow court will next week declare the Navalnyi Anti-Corruption Foundation and its regional political center an extremist organization, previously labeling Al Qaeda and Jehovah’s Witnesses, subjecting its staff, supporters and financiers to severe fines. even in a long prison.
Navalny allies, who are preparing for a final ditch protest on Wednesday to call for a dissident dissident’s freedom, say they are preparing for the worst.
Prior to the protest and the decision on extremism, some of its regional center staff were brought to the ground, while others began deleting data from Russian social networks that regularly share information with the authorities. But by contacting the Guardian, several said they would not leave their political opposition to Vladimir Putin, no matter what came next.
“There is no doubt that the Anti-Corruption Foundation will be recognized as an extremist organization alongside the regional center, and yes, this will be used as another attempt to dismantle our entire structure,” said Leonid Volkov, one of Navalny’s leaders. assistants and organizer of upcoming demonstrations.
Navalny, who has been on hunger strike for nearly three weeks, is said to be dangerously ill in a Russian prison and his doctors say he is threatened with kidney failure or a heart attack. On Tuesday, through a lawyer, he issued a statement thanking his supporters and saying “they won’t get [rid of] so easily. “
But it is clear that the era of Russian opposition politics is coming to an end, Navalnyik’s organization being forced underground on its weak pretext, which poses a threat to Russia’s state security.
“We will find a way to continue our work, but we must be very careful to avoid criminal charges against our supporters and employees,” Volkov said. “If left as is, there will certainly be mass prosecutions against the entire staff of the regional center.”
Over the past decade, Navalny has set up an organization that includes a renegade newspaper, an investigation team that uncovered Kremlin elite involvement in corrupt schemes, an election research center targeting the United Russia ruling party, and more than 35 regional centers.
Many of the staff say they are likely to be targeted as the Kremlin appears ready to exterminate opposition across the country.
“Every member of the team faces 10 years in prison, but we have no right to know what,” his Moscow headquarters wrote in his message, referring to reports that government evidence against Navalnyik is being kept secret. The center’s coordinator, Oleg Stepanov, has been under house arrest since January.
In Penza, a conservative small town about 320 miles southeast of Moscow, Anton Strunin, the coordinator in support of Navalny, was burdened with administrative burdens and fines in support of the opposition leader. Police demanded more than £ 8,000 last week for the January demonstration in support of Navalny. That’s “a pretty big amount here,” he said.
Now that authorities are threatening to call Navalny’s supporters extremists, he said he “hopes for the best”, adding that any attempt to punish people dissatisfied with the government will be abused.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to our organization, but you can’t get rid of people,” Strunin said. – Suppose you declare them extreme. We do not go. And there are a lot of people who are unhappy … be imprisoned, it’s okay, people will still be unhappy.
The loss of Navalny to prison dealt a severe blow to the organization, leaving much of the organizing power abroad. Among the refugees abroad are Volkov, head of the anti-corruption foundation, Ivan Zhdanov and Vladimir Milov, a senior ally of Navalny, who also said he left the country this week to avoid pre-protest arrest. Before the decisive days ahead, there is definitely little organizing power on the ground.
“We try to keep working so that nothing changes with or without it,” Strunin said of Navalny. – It’s a personal thing for me. Not only am I a supporter, but Alexei Navalny is also interested in politics … it has aroused my interest in politics and really changed my life. “
Other organizations declared extremist include Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have experienced raids, imprisonment, and other severe political attacks despite their confession as an apolitical and anti-violent group.
Navalny fans don’t see much in common with the religious group, but say attacks against them may use similar tactics.
Another staff member at the regional center, who asked not to be cited by name, said he would continue to support Navalny if the court declares his organization to be extreme, but acknowledges that there is a possibility in prison. – I think everyone who has supported me now knows that this is possible; no longer screen, we know it is a police state. “
Volkov, who called for Wednesday’s rally because of the urgency of Navalny’s health, said the organization’s expansion to the regions was “one of the most painful and irritating for Putin”.
“I hope the protest can change things,” he said. “I hope it opens a new page in Russia.”