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Ex-Leader Of Navalny's St. Petersburg Group Says She's Been Barred From Elections


Irina Fatyanova (file photo)

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- The former leader of jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in St. Petersburg, Irina Fatyanova, says she has been barred from taking part in upcoming elections because of her ties to the Kremlin critic.

The head of Fatyanova's campaign, Ilya Lyubimov, said that the election commission of Russia's second-largest city made the decision on July 27 after receiving a request from the Justice Ministry to disqualify Fatyanova.

According to Lyubimov, six members of the election commission voted for the move and one voted against it. The official reason for the move was that Fatyanova used to lead Navalny's team in the past, Lyubimov said. There was no immediate confirmation of the move from either the Justice Ministry or the commission.

Fatyanova, who wants to run in the elections as an independent candidate, said she will appeal the decision, adding that she will continue to collect signatures from her supporters.

The move to disqualify Fatyanova comes amid efforts by Russian authorities to squelch dissent ahead of elections across the country in September.

A Moscow City Court last month ruled in favor of a prosecutor's motion to declare Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and other groups related to the opposition politician as "extremist."

The move has prevented those associated with Navalny and his network of regional offices across Russia from seeking public office. It also allows for lengthy prison terms for activists who have worked with the organizations, a move seen by critics as a thinly veiled attempt to scare off potential opposition candidates.

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin's most vocal domestic critic, is serving a 2-1/2 year jail sentence for parole violations that he says were trumped up. His jailing has strained Russia's relations with the West, which has demanded that he be freed and criticized the extremism ruling.

On July 26, the former leader of Navalny's team in Murmansk, Violetta Grudina, announced that she had started a hunger strike saying that the city authorities are creating artificial obstacles to bar her from taking part in the elections to the city council.

Grudina, who was forcibly placed in a COVID hospital last week, wrote on Telegram that all of the documents she compiled to register at the city's election commission while in hospital had disappeared. She said she gave the files to the hospital's chief physician, Arkady Amozov, to pass on to her legal representative, who was supposed to register her candidacy with election officials.

According to Grudina, Amozov recently registered as a candidate for the Kremlin-backed ruling United Russia party.

A court in Murmansk ruled on July 15 that Grudina must stay in a COVID hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus. The activist called the court's decision politically motivated, insisting that she had recovered from COVID-19 long ago and did not need any hospitalization.

On September 19, Russia will vote to choose members of the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, and 39 regional parliaments, as well as nine regional governors.

In the run-up to the elections, the Kremlin has cracked down -- sometimes brutally -- on opposition political figures and independent media.

The Moscow court ruling to label Navalny's political network as "extremist" a -- a move that his team has called a sign of a "truly new level" of lawlessness in the country -- came days after Putin endorsed a law that bars leaders and founders of organizations declared extremist or terrorist by Russian courts from running for elected posts for a period of five years. Other members or employees of such organizations face a three-year ban.

With the country mired in economic woes that have seen a decline in real incomes and rising inflation, the United Russia party has been polling at historic lows. According to the Levada Center polling outfit, just 27 percent of Russians support the party, down from 31 percent last August.

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