A Moscow court has banned the public from a hearing in a case brought by Russian prosecutors to label jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s anti-corruption organization and its regional offices as "extremist" organizations.
The court ruled on April 19 that the case involved a state secret, but Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), said the Prosecutor-General’s Office had no evidence on which to base its claim.
Zhdanov also said the decision means Navalny’s associates will not be able to view the evidence filed in the case until the day of the hearing, set for April 26, in a special unit of the Moscow City Court. Only lawyers involved in the case can get access to the materials now.
The latest move against Navalny’s opposition movement comes as Navalny is in the third week of a hunger strike. The imprisoned opposition leader was transferred on April 19 to a correctional facility hospital amid intensifying pressure from the West.
Russian prosecutors last week accused the FBK, Russia’s largest opposition network, of working to create conditions for “changing the foundations of the constitutional order.”
It said the FBK operates "under the guise of liberal slogans” as it engages “in creating conditions for the destabilization of the social and sociopolitical situation."
The extremist label, if approved, would severely limit Navalny’s allies and activists from organizing, criminalizing such things as calling for or participating in protests. Navalny's aides and organizations are already subject to frequent police raids and arrests over their political activities.
The decision to close the proceeding comes as Navalny’s aides are pushing for massive nationwide anti-government protests on April 21.
"Before each of us the question arises: are we ready to do something to save the life of a person who has been risking it for us for many years," said Leonid Volkov, the coordinator of the network of Navalny's teams across Russia.
Navalny was sentenced in February to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges he says were politically motivated. He was arrested in January after returning from Germany, where he was treated for a poison attack with a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group.