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Navalny's Lawyer Quits Parliamentary Elections Over Draconian Law

Lyubov Sobol
Lyubov Sobol

MOSCOW -- Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer for jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), says she is quitting her bid to become a member of parliament in order to protect her campaign team from being prosecuted under a draconian law that targets Navalny's associates.

Her announcement follows a move by Russian authorities last week that banned all organizations associated with Navalny and labeled them as extremist groups.

Sobol told reporters in Moscow on June 14 that she cannot ensure the safety of her campaign team or sponsors in the run-up to September's elections for Russia's lower chamber of parliament, the State Duma.

Sobol said the banning of Navalny's organizations was politically motivated. She said Russian authorities are "scared" to allow her to take part in the elections because recent polls show her popularity among Moscow residents is much higher than the candidate representing Russian President Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party.

Sobol also said Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation will fight in all available courts, including the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, to reverse the June 10 decision by the Moscow City Court that labels the group as extremist.

On June 4, six days before the Moscow court's ruling, Putin signed a bill into law that bans supporters and members of organizations deemed by authorities as "extremist" from being elected to any public post.

Many in Russia see the law as an attempt to make it impossible for anyone connected with Navalny to gain public office.

While Russian authorities have been ramping up pressure on dissent ahead of the September election, public opinion polls have shown that support for Putin's United Russia party is at the lowest level ever.

Navalny's regional headquarters has been instrumental in implementing a so-called Smart Voting strategy -- a project designed to promote candidates who are most likely to defeat those from United Russia.

Navalny is currently serving a prison sentence on embezzlement charges that he says were trumped up because of his political activity and criticism of Putin.

Navalny has been in custody since January when he returned to Russia following medical treatment in Germany for a nerve-agent poisoning he suffered last August.

Navalny and his associates say the poisoning was carried out on orders from Putin by agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB). The Kremlin denies any role in the poisoning.

Since Navalny was jailed, the Kremlin has stepped up a crackdown against his associates. Many have fled the country in fear of being arrested.