RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
The team for jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny says a court ruling labeling his political network as "extremist" fails to show any evidence of wrongdoing -- a sign of a "truly new level" of lawlessness in the country.
Navalny's associates on June 23 made public the court ruling and the documents used against them by prosecutors during the trial, which was held behind closed doors because some materials were considered classified.
In its June 9 ruling, the court described the group as "extremist" on the grounds that its calls for people to protest caused "damage to public order, to public security, to the interests of individuals and companies."
The court said the protests violated the rights and freedoms of citizens in Russia.
"During Putin's 20 years, we seem to have gotten used to any kind of game or lawlessness, but here we have a truly new level. And absurdity, and repression of common sense," the Navalny team said in a statement.
Russian authorities have ramped up pressure on dissent ahead of the parliamentary elections in September, with opinion polls showing support for the ruling United Russia party waning.
The court ruling came just days after Putin endorsed a law that bars leaders and founders of organizations declared "extremist" or terrorists by Russian courts from running for elected posts for a period of five years. Other members or employees of such organizations will face a three-year ban.
The two factors together prevent people associated with Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and his network of regional political offices across Russia from seeking public office. It also carries lengthy prison terms for activists who have worked with the organizations.
Navalny's team said that in total, the case file included more than 20 volumes and more than 5,000 pages, many of which are just screenshots and descriptions of web pages, an indication, the team said, of how little "real evidence" there was in the case.
Navalny's team said the court ruling and "extremism" law showed how desperate the Kremlin is to hold on to power in the face of growing dissent.
"The constitution says that everyone capable and not in prison can be elected. So Putin took a pencil and added, 'Except those who support Navalny are not allowed to be elected, thank you,'" their statement says.
"An absolutely unprecedented sweep has taken place, the extent of which we have yet to realize. Literally an entire generation has been cut off from participating in politics," it adds.
The statement came the same day that the independent monitoring group Golos said legal restrictions enacted by the government had deprived at least 9 million Russians, about 8 percent of the eligible population, of their right to be elected as the September parliamentary elections near.
Navalny, Putin's most prominent domestic critic, was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin -- an accusation that Russian officials reject.
Navalny was sentenced in February to 2 1/2 years in prison for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction widely considered politically motivated. In April, tens of thousands of people demonstrated for his release, following similar mass protests in January against his arrest.
Navalny's foundation has relentlessly targeted senior government officials over the past decade with widely watched videos that detail allegations of corruption. His political network has been instrumental in implementing a "smart voting" strategy -- a project designed to promote candidates most likely to defeat Kremlin-linked figures.
The United States and Britain have condemned the court ruling, which has fueled greater tensions between the West and Moscow.
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