Russian Court Hands Lengthy Prison Term To Former Open Russia Executive Pivovarov

A court in Russia's southwestern city of Krasnodar has handed a four-year prison term to Andrei Pivovarov, the former executive director of the pro-democracy Open Russia movement, on charges of heading an “undesirable” organization.

The Lenin district court sentenced Pivovarov on July 15 after finding him guilty of leading the Open Russia group. The court also barred Pivovarov from being elected to public office.

In his last statement at trial, Pivovarov said the case against him was trumped up and politically motivated.

"Although those who are calling to stand for the future are being oppressed and jailed, I know that progress is unstoppable, changes for a better life are inevitable, and they are close. See you in our new, desirable, and open Russia. We will make it!" Pivovarov said.

The accusation against Pivovarov stems from a law that has repeatedly been used to target critical voices.

Pivovarov was first detained in May 2021 when he was taken off a Warsaw-bound plane just before takeoff from St. Petersburg.

Leaders of the Russia-based Open Russia dissolved the group more than a year ago after authorities designated it an "undesirable" organization. They said they did so to protect supporters from further "harassment" by the Russian authorities.

Open Russia was financed by Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who moved to London after spending 10 years in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as political revenge for challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin politically.

The "undesirable organization" law, adopted in 2015, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources -- mainly from Europe and the United States.

The Russian State Duma has since dramatically widened the scope of the law, including to bar Russian nationals and organizations anywhere in the world from taking part in activities of such "undesirable" groups.

Putin this week signed into law an expansion of the so-called foreign agents law to allow punishment for anyone deemed to be "under foreign influence," a change that critics say will make it even easier for the state to target its domestic critics.