‘Rebranding will not help’ Navalny and his top aides face new criminal charges as his political movement officially disbands ahead of extremism ruling
On Thursday, April 29, Team Navalny announced the official dissolution of the jailed opposition politician’s network of regional offices. Almost simultaneously, Navalny’s website published documents revealing a previously unannounced criminal case against him and his top aides. The case was launched back in February on felony charges the likes of which have previously handed down to the leaders of religious cults. And this is on top of the fact that Moscow prosecutors are awaiting a ruling on labeling Navalny’s anti-corruption groups and political network “extremist organizations.”
Navalny’s political network, which had been operating since 2017, officially disbanded on Thursday, April 29. Navalny’s chief of staff, Leonid Volkov, said that given the pending extremism ruling targeting the opposition politician’s organizations, “preserving the work of Navalny’s network in its current form is impossible.” As Volkov explained, the “extremism” designation would threaten criminal liability for anyone who works or volunteers with Navalny’s offices. “Rebranding will not help; we won’t even be able to pretend that this is now some other organization,” he added. “Alas, it’s impossible to work in such conditions.”
The majority of Navalny’s regional offices will continue to work as independent, socio-political organizations. “Our headquarters know how to fundraise, they know how to work with supporters, they know how to set tasks themselves — to find problematic topics on the regional agenda, conduct investigations, and support local activists,” Volkov said. He also added that Navalny’s “Smart Voting” initiative will continue its work, and that his team will disclose its format for the fall State Duma elections at a later date.
Navalny’s political movement suspended its operations earlier this week. Pending the extremism ruling, Moscow prosecutors banned the network from organizing rallies, posting content online, using their bank accounts, and taking part in electoral activities. In turn, Team Navalny announced that they were “freezing” their social media pages and no longer accepting donations. Navalny’s anti-corruption organizations were placed under preliminary restrictions ahead of the trial, as well.
In other news, Alexey Navalny is a suspect in a new criminal case. Although it was opened back in February, reports about the case emerged for the first time on Thursday. Navalny’s top aides, Ivan Zhdanov and Leonid Volkov, are also considered suspects, though they both live abroad. The case was launched under Criminal Code article 239, part 1 (Creation of a religious or public association whose activity is fraught with violence against individuals or with the infliction of injury to their health), which outlines punishments of up to four years in prison.
Since 2009, 14 people in Russia have been convicted under article 239, Znak.com reports, citing data from the Supreme Court’s judicial department. Vadim Klyuvgant, a partner from the bar association Pen & Paper, told the news outlet that “this is negligible.” “It can be said that this is practically an inapplicable rule. In other words, it’s ‘dormant’,” he said. The list of people previously convicted under article 239 includes Mikhail Ustyantsev, who led the Russian branch of the Japanese doomsday cult “Aum Shinrikyo”; Sergey Torop, also known as “Vissarion,” the leader of the messianic sect Church of the Last Testament; and Andrey Popov, the self-styled “god Kuzya.”
Also on Thursday, a Moscow court rejected Navalny’s appeal against the verdict in the “war veteran defamation” case. Back in February, Navalny was fined 850,000 rubles (about $11,500) for insulting a WWII veteran. His lawyers were trying to get this verdict overturned. Navalny himself took part in the hearing via a video link from prison. He pointed out a number of procedural violations in the case and demanded that he be acquitted and released from prison immediately. In his final statement, Navalny said that Russia is being ruled by a “naked king.”
Translated and edited by Eilish Hart