The Moscow city prosecutor's office has suspended all activities at the offices of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's headquarters across the country and asked the Moscow City Court to do the same for Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and the Citizens' Rights Defense Foundation (FZPG).
Vladimir Voronin, a lawyer for the FBK, said on April 26 that the prosecutor's office made the decision to suspend the activities of Navalny's headquarters on its own, but needed to ask the court to suspend the activities of the FBK and the FZPG because it didn't have the authority to do so. The court will decide on this motion on the same day, he added.*
Ivan Zhdanov, the director of the FBK, said in a tweet that the ban will remain in effect until a decision is made by the court on an application by the Moscow prosecutor's office to classify the organizations as extremist.
"They are screaming out with this move: We are afraid of your activities, we are afraid of your rallies, we are afraid of smart voting," Zhdanov said in a tweet on April 26. The post also included a photo of the motion from the prosecutors.
In his April 26 requests to suspend the groups' activities, Moscow city prosecutor Denis Popov asked the court to ban Navalny's organizations from publishing the results of its investigative reports on the Internet, from holding rallies and demonstrations, and from taking part in elections and referendums.
"The 3 things that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin fears are very conveniently highlighted...1) Investigations 2) Rallies 3) Participation in elections," Georgy Alburov, a member of the FBK's investigations department, said on Twitter.
The move is part of a broader initiative by the Moscow prosecutor's office, which is seeking to have the Moscow City Court label Navalny's three organizations as "extremist" and shut them down as they are allegedly "engaged in creating conditions for destabilizing the social and sociopolitical situation under the guise of their liberal slogans."
That proposal has been condemned by international and domestic human rights groups who say that if Navalny's organizations are officially recognized as "extremist," all of the employees could face arrest and prison terms from six to 10 years.
Amnesty International called the move a "cynical attack" of an "unprecedented" amplitude.
"Dozens of employees of Navalny's headquarters working across 34 Russian regions and hundreds of thousands of Internet users who have shared Navalny's groups' materials on social networks, are potential targets for severe reprisals," Amnesty said in a statement on April 26.
"The audacity and scale of this cynical attack are unprecedented, effectively suppressing the rights to freedom of expression and association of thousands," Marie Struthers, Amnesty’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia director, said.
"The objective is clear: to raze Aleksei Navalny’s movement to the ground while he languishes in prison. It is symbolic and particularly telling of the Russian authorities’ cowardice that the court proceedings have been pronounced 'secret' and will be closed to the public without sufficient safeguards of fairness."
The FBK tweeted earlier on April 26 that an official hearing into the case is scheduled for April 29.
The January arrest and subsequent imprisonment of Navalny on what are seen as trumped-up charges have worsened ties between Russia and the West, already strained by Moscow's seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and the fomenting of separatism across much of Ukraine that helped to ignite a war that has killed more than 13,000 people in the Donbas, where Moscow-backed forces hold parts of two provinces.
The FBK has rattled the Kremlin over the years with its video investigations exposing the unexplained wealth of top officials, including Putin.
Last week, almost 2,000 supporters of Navalny were arrested in nationwide protests aimed at pressuring officials to allow Navalny access to proper medical treatment as fears for his life rose as he entered the third week of a hunger strike he started over the medical attention he was receiving in prison.
On April 23, Navalny ended the hunger strike, saying he had "achieved enough," though he continues to demand that he be examined by his personal doctors for acute pain in his back and legs.
However, in a video call with Putin on April 26, French President Emmanuel Macron told the Russian leader he was "deeply worried" about Navalny's health and also about "respect for his fundamental rights."
Navalny was arrested on January 17 upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he had received life-saving treatment for a poisoning attack in Siberia in August.
He has insisted that his poisoning with a Soviet-style chemical nerve agent was ordered directly by Putin. The Kremlin has denied any role in the poisoning.
In February, a Moscow court ruled that while in Germany, Navalny had violated the terms of parole from an old embezzlement case that is widely considered to be politically motivated.
Navalny's 3 1/2-year suspended sentence from the case was converted to a prison term, though the court said he will serve 2 1/2 years in prison given time already served in detention.
The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia over the Navalny affair and the government's crackdown on demonstrators earlier this year at rallies protesting Navalny's arrest.