Hundreds of thousands of extremists Russia has finally outlawed Alexey Navalny’s political and anti-corruption movement. Here’s how the crackdown affects activists, journalists, and ordinary supporters.
The Russian justice system has outlawed Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, the Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation (both of which the Justice Ministry previously designated as “foreign agents”), and Navalny’s nationwide network of campaign offices, designating all these groups as “extremist” organizations. The verdict takes effect in 30 days except in the unlikely event that defense attorneys succeed in challenging the ruling. Meduza reviews the criminal liability that now looms over Navalny’s former employees, his supporters, and even journalists who reported on the movement’s activities.
The Russian authorities broadly interpret the meaning of “involvement” in extremist organizations. Officials consider supporters to be anyone who has helped or helps such groups with donations, counsel, or “any other kind of assistance.” If you attended an extremist group’s rally or even scribbled an approving comment somewhere online, your actions could qualify as illegal activity.
For the next three years, Navalny’s supporters are banned from seeking elected office at all levels of government. These restrictions apply to everyone who was “involved” in his organizations within 12 months of their designation as “extremist” groups.
In other words, Russian election officials could now deny candidacy to literally anyone who promoted the “SmartVote” strategic voting initiative or attended a single unpermitted protest endorsed by Navalny in the past year. This includes candidacy in Russia’s next presidential election in the spring of 2024 when Vladimir Putin is eligible to seek a fifth term in office.
Wednesday’s ruling makes it illegal even to display symbols associated with Navalny’s banned organizations. Violators could face fines as high as 2,000 rubles (about $27) or up to 15 days in jail. The only permitted public use of these symbols (official or not) is to convey “a negative attitude toward the ideology of extremism.” In practice, Russian courts have been comfortable punishing people for old posts on social media shared long before an organization was ever declared “extremist.”
The foundations and offices that made up Navalny’s now illegal movement have all been formally dissolved, but anyone accused of financing these groups after today is subject to fines as high as $10,000 or up to eight years in prison. Police could also add these individuals to Russia’s registry of terrorists and extremists, freezing all their bank accounts and limiting their legal monthly spending to just 10,000 rubles ($140) per family member.
Employees at all levels, from directors to volunteers, face the same prohibition on political candidacy as supporters. These measures apply even to staff members who resigned from Navalny’s organizations before Wednesday’s court ruling. Anyone who belonged to these groups in some capacity within 12 months of the June 9 verdict will be banned from running for elected office for the next three years.
As a result, anyone who was officially associated with Team Navalny after the summer of 2020 is now unable to run for elected office in Russia until the summer of 2024.
Anyone convicted of continued activity in Navalny’s now-banned organizations faces up to six years in prison — meaning that Russia’s justice system theoretically treats financing extremism as a more serious crime than working in an extremist group. These workers can also end up on the registry of terrorists and extremists.
The ban on political candidacy is even stricter for the Navalny movement’s former managers. Anyone who held an even remotely executive position in one of these “extremist” organizations within three years of the June 9 court ruling is now prohibited from seeking elected office for the next five years, meaning that Navalny’s senior associates can’t run in elections until the summer of 2026, a whole parliamentary cycle in the future.
For the next 10 years, Navalny’s former managers are also barred from founding any nonprofit organizations (like the Anti-Corruption Foundation) or new social and religious associations.
Even if someone managed to create another legal entity to carry on Navalny’s anti-corruption work and political advocacy, anyone convicted of trying to resume the activities of Navalny’s outlawed groups could face an entire decade in prison and inclusion on Russia’s registry of terrorists and extremists.
From now on, Russian-language news outlets are required to specify that the justice system has designated Navalny’s organizations as “extremist” and ordered their dissolution. This is in addition to existing obligations that force journalists to note that Russia’s Justice Ministry has designated both the Anti-Corruption Foundation and the Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation as “foreign agents.” Noncompliance risks individual fines as high as 50,000 rubles (almost $700).
Russia’s anti-extremism laws also prohibit mass media outlets from distributing “extremist materials.” Based on court rulings, the Justice Ministry maintains a list of these materials. If content created by any of Navalny’s organizations ends up on this blacklist, news outlets that share these materials could face fines as high as 1 million rubles ($13,820) or even a three-month suspension of all operations.
In the past, however, Russia’s federal censor has cited anti-extremism regulations in warnings issued to news outlets for merely publishing hyperlinks to materials that the Justice Ministry never even blacklisted. Two of these warnings within a 12-month period are grounds for revoking a media outlet’s registration certificate.
It’s unclear how Russia’s censor will handle existing news stories that summarize the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s investigative reports. In the past, the Russian authorities have interpreted “the dissemination of extremist materials” as any available content, meaning that older articles accessible online now are still being “disseminated” today. Roskomnadzor could order Russian journalists to delete any stories that reproduce the Navalny’s movement’s supposed “extremism.”
The authorities will also need to decide how they will police old reports about Navalny’s organizations that do not identify his groups as banned “extremists.” If officials enforce these requirements rigorously, any online media outlet that fails to revise all past mentions of these organizations or redact summaries of Navalny’s anti-corruption reports could be fined and even blocked in Russia.
News outlets convicted of displaying the symbols of “extremist” groups (whether in video or photo reports) also face 50,000-ruble fines. The penalty skyrockets to 1 million rubles for the publication of content that supposedly incites extremist activities or justifies the need for such actions.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock