Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) have lodged a complaint against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights claiming authorities are "unlawfully" impeding their political activities.
The European Human Rights Advocacy Center (EHRAC), which is part of the team representing the applicants in the case, said in a statement on March 6 that "a large and invasive criminal investigation into alleged money laundering by FBK staff" by Russian officials is little more than an attempt to stall their pro-democracy efforts.
"I have repeatedly faced persecution by the Russian authorities for my political activities. The pressure is not only directed at me, but at the structures that I have created and the employees of these structures," Navalny said in the statement.
Navalny, 43, has been one of President Vladimir Putin's most vocal critics for the better part of a decade, enduring multiple incarcerations, a barred attempt to run for president, and a hamstrung bid for the Moscow mayor's post.
Most recently, Navalny and FBK chief Ivan Zhdanov said on March 3 that their bank accounts had been emptied and all their payment cards and those of relatives were blocked in what they described as a move to discredit and disgrace them.
"This is a hugely important case for the defense of democratic freedoms in Russia, and for the effective safeguarding of human rights defenders and other 'critical voices' whose activities are constantly threatened by the arbitrary conduct of the Russian authorities," EHRAC Director Philip Leach said.
Russia passed a "foreign agent" law -- which requires all nongovernmental organizations receiving foreign funding to register -- in 2012 following a major wave of anti-government protests.
The Justice Ministry labelled FBK a foreign agent in October. The FBK has refused to register as a foreign agent, saying it has never received financial support from foreign entities.
Since October, the FBK has unsuccessfully tried to appeal the decision of being branded a foreign agent. Navalny has said that the move was another way of imposing pressure on his organization.
Last year, the "foreign agent" law was amended to brand reporters who work for organizations officially listed as foreign agents as foreign agents themselves.
The money-laundering case was launched by investigators last August as Navalny encouraged pro-democracy rallies over the rejection of most opposition candidates in municipal elections. The protests, which ran for weeks, were some of the biggest in years.
Navalny has long been a thorn in Putin's side. He was barred from running for president in 2018 due to a tax fraud conviction that he has called trumped up. Putin easily won the election.
Kremlin Critic Navalny Files Suit Against Russia At European Rights Court