An association of Russian human rights lawyers linked to jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s group says it has suspended its work to protect its members and supporters from criminal prosecution amid a government pressure campaign.
Komanda 29 announced on July 18 that it was liquidating, the latest independent civil-society organization to fold under new, repressive "foreign agent" laws.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to quash growing opposition to his two-decade-long tenure running the country, including four years as prime minister, with draconian laws that make it all but impossible for opposition groups to function.
Russia’s prosecutor-general on July 15 accused Komanda 29 of having ties to Spolecnost Svobody Informace, a Czech-based nongovernmental organization, and of distributing its material.
The Kremlin has declared Spolecnost Svobody Informace an “undesirable” organization, putting any Russian individual or entity that cooperates with it at risk of administrative or criminal penalties.
On the basis of the prosecutor’s determination, state media monitor Roskomnadzor shut down Komanda 29’s website on July 16.
Komanda 29 has denied any link to the Czech organization or spreading its material. Darya Sukhykh, who headed Spolecnost Svobody Informace five years ago, is now a senior lawyer with Komanda 29.
Roskomnadzor did not respond to a request from Russian daily Kommersant to identify the alleged Spolecnost Svobody Informace material on Komanda 29’s website.
The association said it intended to "challenge" the prosecutor-general's allegations but could "not ignore the position" of the nation's hard-liners from the security services.
Komanda 29 said "the next step in the attack" by the authorities could be the criminal prosecution of both members and supporters, including anyone "who supported us, cooperated with us, and participated in humanitarian and media projects."
"In these circumstances, the continuation of Komanda 29's activities poses a direct and clear threat to the safety of a large number of people, and we cannot ignore this risk," it said.
The association has represented supporters of Navalny, the nation's most-vocal critic of Putin.
Komanda 29 has been led by Ivan Pavlov, who is representing Ivan Safronov, the former Russian military industry journalist accused of treason.
Pavlov himself is under investigation for allegedly disseminating classified material pertaining to Safronov’s case. Pavlov rejects the government’s claims.
Komanda 29 said its lawyers will continue to work the cases of their clients "exclusively in their personal capacity if the clients do not refuse their help in this situation."