Opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s prison sentence is due to end in mid-2023, but this week it emerged there are plans to keep him behind bars for far longer. The powerful Investigative Committee launched Thursday a case against Navalny and the other directors of his Anti-Corruption Fund (designated an extremist organization by the Russian authorities). They all now face charges of managing an extremist organization (which carries a jail term of up to 10 years).
- To fund the activities of the extremist Anti-Corruption Fund, investigators claimed Navalny set up eight organizations, both non-profit companies and commercial firms, in co-operation with his allies Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov. Then, in 2017 they set-up the Navalny HQ movement with the apparent aim of “widening the scope of [their] criminal activity”. Volkov was in charge of Navalny’s HQ, the Investigative Committee said, and between 2014 and 2021, Navalny allies Lyubov Sobol, Georgy Alburov, Ruslan Shaveddinov, Vyacheslav Gimadi also took part. Navalny’s YouTube channel and social media accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook linked to the organization were all designed to promote criminal activity, investigators said.
- There are likely two main reasons for the new case. The first is to keep Navalny in jail (most of the remaining leaders of the Anti-Corruption Fund have long since fled abroad). The second is to target an ill-defined circle of individuals who helped or supported Navalny. In theory, even sharing a social media post by Navalny could now make someone liable to prosecution, several lawyers told The Bell.
- This is the fourth time Navalny has faced criminal charges: he was previously accused of insulting a judge, embezzling donations and creating a non-profit organization that infringes human rights. “If they tot these up without any discount, it’s 23 years. Of course, they can always think of something else, but in any event the maximum cumulative sentence is no more than 30 years. So fear not, I’ll be free no later than the spring of 2051,” Navalny commented on Instagram.
Why the world should care: The new case against Navalny takes the Kremlin’s ‘cleansing’ of the political field to new extremes — and for many years to come. Those opposed to the current regime have desperately few legal means left of expressing dissent.