MOSCOW (AP) – Russian authorities have filed new criminal charges against the imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is part of a government action against the corruption fighter and his ailing team ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Russia.
Russia’s investigative committee said Wednesday it had accused Navalny of setting up a nonprofit that violates people’s rights, an offense that can be punished with up to three years in prison.
Officials alleged that Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, which was established 10 years ago and has since released dozens of widely viewed videos exposing alleged corruption of high-ranking government officials, encouraging Russians to “conduct illegal activities” by called on her to participate in unauthorized protests in January.
45-year-old Navalny is the fiercest political opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was arrested in January after returning from Germany, where he was recovering for five months from neurotoxin poisoning, which he attributes to the Kremlin – an accusation that has been denied by Russian officials.
In February, Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he released as politically motivated.
His arrest and detention sparked a wave of mass protests that appeared to be a major challenge for the Kremlin. The authorities responded with mass arrests of demonstrators and prosecutions of Nawalny’s closest associates.
In June a court banned the Anti-Corruption Foundation and a network of Navalny regional offices from being extremist organizations. The designation prevented people associated with the groups from seeking public office and exposed them to long prison terms.
The Russian authorities also blocked around 50 websites run by his team or his supporters for allegedly spreading propaganda by extremist groups and launched a criminal investigation into Navalny’s top allies Ivan Zhdanov and Leonid Volkov over a crowdfunding campaign.
Navalny’s allies have linked the proceedings with the parliamentary elections in Russia. The September 19 vote is widely seen as an important part of Putin’s efforts to consolidate his rule ahead of the country’s 2024 presidential election.
The 68-year-old Russian head of state, who has been in power for more than two decades, pushed through constitutional amendments last year that would allow him to stay in power until 2036.
Some of Nawalny’s top employees had planned to run in the general election. The politician’s team has also promised to use its smart voting strategy in the elections – a project that aims to promote candidates who are most likely to defeat those of the dominant Kremlin party, United Russia.
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