A Russian court has postponed the hearing into a case against the political network of jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny to determine whether it should be designated “extremist.”
The Moscow City Court was expected on May 17 to rule on a motion put forward by prosecutors that would label three organizations tied to Navalny -- the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), the Citizens’ Rights Defense Foundation (FZPG), and Navalny’s regional headquarters -- “extremist.”
However, as the hearing started, prosecutors added six more volumes of materials to the case, meaning lawyers for Navalny’s groups needed time to go over the new materials, the Team 29 group of attorneys representing Navalny's team said.
An hour into the hearing, the court rule to postpone it until June 9.
Prosecutors say the organizations have “engaged in creating conditions for destabilizing the social and sociopolitical situation under the guise of their liberal slogans.”
Rights activists have sharply criticized the prosecutor's motion as a "scandalous" attempt to silence and oppress any opposition and dissent in the country.
A court ruling in favor of the motion, which is widely expected, means anyone connected to the operations "immediately will be charged with extremism and this will lead to prison sentences for those who work at the headquarters, those who cooperate with them, and those who help them," Navalny ally Leonid Volkov said last month.
The label would put Navalny and his supporters and financial backers on par with members of the Islamic State militant group and Al-Qaeda. Under Russian law, membership in or funding of an extremist organization is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Ivan Zhdanov, the head of the FBK, said on April 29 the organization's activities will not cease regardless of the outcome of the court hearing. The FBK has published numerous investigations into the lavish lifestyles of Russia's elite.
Among them is a probe into a residence belonging to Putin that was published last month on YouTube. The investigation found that the residence contains sumptuous interiors and includes a large spa center not revealed to Russian taxpayers. Putin denies the palace is his.
The move to label Navalny’s organizations extremist is the latest in a series of assaults on Navalny since he suffered a nerve-agent poisoning attack in August 2020.
He and his supporters blame that attack on Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives acting at the behest of authoritarian President Vladimir Putin.
Navalny spent weeks in Germany recuperating from the poisoning. When he returned to Russia in January, he was arrested and later sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges he says were trumped up to hinder his political activity.
Navalny launched a hunger strike in prison on March 31 demanding he be examined by his own doctor amid what his supporters have described as a “deliberate campaign” by prison officials to undermine his health. Though he ended the strike on April 22, he said he is still pushing for his legal right to be seen by a doctor of his own choice.
As part of the crackdown on Navalny's organizations, Moscow prosecutors last month halted all activities of Navalny's regional offices and petitioned the court to do the same for the FBK and FZPG as the prosecutors didn't have the authority to do so on their own.
Volkov said on April 29 that the Navalny regional headquarters network was shutting down as it had become "impossible" to maintain operations. Some headquarters, however, will continue their activities as independent social and political groups, Volkov said.