A court in Moscow has outlawed organizations founded by jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny by ruling them extremist — the latest move in a campaign to silence dissent ahead of elections in September.
By the time a verdict was delivered a little before 11pm local time, lawyers acting for jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s organisations had already abandoned the courtroom in protest.
There was, of course, never much hope that the process would deliver anything other than the decision state prosecutors requested: that Mr Navalny’s anti-corruption NGO and regional political network be declared extremist organisations, and disbanded.
But the velocity with which the judge did just that within a day, rejecting a dozen legal objections and most points of law along the way, left the defence team with a perception their presence was no longer necessary.
"I hope that when you return from your deliberation room and you aren’t ashamed of what you say," lead lawyer Ivan Pavlov told the judge a few moments before excusing his team from the courtroom.
The decision to declare Mr Navalny’s organisations on a par with ISIS not only has the immediate effect of outlawing their activity. Thanks to another law passed in the run up, it also has the retroactive consequence of barring anyone connected with the organisations from running for legislative office.
That, say Mr Navalny’s supporters, is the equivalent of banning all legitimate political opposition in Russia.
Much of the case at Moscow City Court was heard in secret, with the state having classified proceedings soon after they were filed.
According to Mr Navlny’s legal team, prosecutors argued his anti-corruption NGO was trying to "challenge constitutional order" and "create an opinion that a change of government is necessary”. A retort that turnover of government was a basic constitutional principle was given short shrift.
The moves to outlaw Mr Navalny’s organisation began on 16 April, several weeks after the Putin critic returned to Russia and was jailed. The court’s decision comes just a week before the Russian leader’s summit with US president Joe Biden in Switzerland.
Responding to the largely expected verdict, Mr Navalny issued a statement via lawyers on social media. He suggested his organisations would reform under another aegis.
"We aren’t a name, a document, or an office," he said. "We are a group of people who unite and organise against corruption, for fair courts and equality in front of the law. There are millions of us."
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