Clearing the way Moscow prosecutors want to ban the Anti-Corruption Foundation and ‘Team Navalny’ offices as extremist organizations
The Moscow Prosecutor’s Office has filed a lawsuit seeking to have Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (the FBK) and his campaign offices recognized as extremist organizations. The Russian authorities are accusing “Team Navalny” of destabilizing the country and attempting to overthrow power in Russia by staging “color revolutions.” Navalny’s closest associates fear that being labeled as extremist will “clear the way for hundreds of criminal cases” against these organizations and their members.
Moscow prosecutors want to have Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation, and “Team Navalny” offices recognized as extremist organizations, and have filed a corresponding lawsuit with the Moscow City Court. According to a statement from the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office, “Under the guise of liberal slogans, these organizations are engaged in creating conditions for destabilizing the social and the socio-political situation” in Russia. Moscow prosecutors maintain that the actual aims of these organizations is to overthrow “the foundations of the constitutional order” by staging “color revolutions.”
Navalny’s associates believe the lawsuit is connected to their plans to hold a countrywide protest action in support of the jailed politician, as well as to the parliamentary elections coming up this fall. A statement signed by Navalny’s chief of staff Leonid Volkov and FBK director Ivan Zhdanov underscores that these organizations have operated “exclusively peacefully and exclusively legally” throughout their existence. Volkov and Zhdanov note that they “have no great doubts about what kind of decision a Putinist ‘court’ will make” in response to the prosecutors’ petition. They also added that declaring these organizations extremist “clears the way for hundreds of criminal cases.”
“The darkest time is coming for freethinking people [and] for civil society in Russia. In fact, the Kremlin has just demanded that anyone who disagrees with it be recognized as extremists. [Anyone who] disagrees with palaces and rising prices, with raising the retirement age and corruption. Anyone who’s prepared to protest against this will now be declared extremist.”
If the FBK is recognized as an extremist organization, involvement in any of its activities will carry the threat of criminal charges. Under Russian Criminal Code article 282.2, its organizers can be sentenced to anywhere from six to ten years in prison; for participants, the prison sentences range between two and six years. Moreover, as noted by human rights activist Pavel Chikov, the precedent for handing down prison sentences to those convicted under this article is well established in Russia already. Displaying the organization’s symbols will come with the threat of administrative penalties. In addition, media outlets covering the FBK will have to explicitly mention that it’s recognized as an extremist organization, under threat of being fined. The foundation will also be banned from any banking activity, and financing it (including through donations) will be punishable by three to eight years behind bars.
Several “Team Navalny” activists have been detained in different parts of Russia over the past week. The coordinator of Navalny’s St. Petersburg headquarters was jailed for 10 days on charges of organizing an illegal protest rally on January 31, after posting an announcement about the demonstration on VKontakte. On April 12, the day after “Team Navalny” opened its new office in Makhachkala, the office’s coordinator and his deputy were reported missing. On April 13, reports emerged that they had been placed under administrative arrest and were being held in special detention centers in Dagestan. “Team Navalny” activists were also detained in Krasnodar and Voronezh. Unidentified individuals broke into and vandalized the Murmansk office. And security officials showed up at Navalny’s headquarters in Pskov, Penza, and Irkutsk.
In 2019, the Russian authorities opened a money laundering case against the FBK’s employees. The investigation emerged amid the mass protests in Moscow in support of the independent candidates who were barred from running for city council. According to state investigators, the FBK’s employees deposited funds into the foundation’s accounts that they knew had been “acquired for them through criminal means.” Initially, the case involved a sum of around one billion rubles ($13.2 million by today’s exchange rate), though this figure later dropped to 75 million rubles ($990,000). Law enforcement officials carried out searches at “Team Navalny” offices across the country repeatedly, and many of the FBK’s employees had their bank accounts frozen. The investigation dragged on for more than a year and a half without any charges being laid.
Alexey Navalny founded the Anti-Corruption Foundation in 2011. In the summer of 2020, he dissolved it as a legal entity and registered a new organization called the Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation to serve as the legal entity behind the FBK brand. The decision to dissolve the FBK came after the catering company “Moskovsky Shkolnik,” which is allegedly linked to notorious oligarch Evgeny Prigozhin, successfully sued Navalny, the FBK, and opposition figure Lyubov Sobol for roughly 88 million rubles (about $1.16 million by today’s exchange rate) in compensation for damages to its business reputation.
Translation by Eilish Hart