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Russian Lawmakers Initiate Thinly Veiled Bill Aimed At Keeping Navalny Associates From Participating In Elections

Navalny associate Leonid Volkov: "We have seen a mass of 'laws against Navalny,' but nothing this harsh.
Navalny associate Leonid Volkov: "We have seen a mass of 'laws against Navalny,' but nothing this harsh.

A group of Russian lawmakers has proposed legislation that would bar individuals involved in the activities of a public or religious group, or any organization that has been recognized by a court as "extremist or terrorist," from taking part in parliamentary elections.

The draft bill, put forward just ahead of September elections to the parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, states that ordinary employees and leaders of such organizations cannot be elected as lawmakers if they worked in such groups for one and three years, respectively, before a court's decision to ban such groups.

The bill also says that individuals who "provided financial support, property, as well as organizational, methodical, consultative, or any other type of assistance" to such organizations one year before the organization was banned will be barred from taking part in parliamentary elections for three years.

The move comes on the heels of Moscow prosecutors asking a court to recognize jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's regional network, along with his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and his Citizens' Rights Defense Foundation (FZPG), as extremist organizations.

The Moscow City Court has said it will rule on the motion on May 17.

Leonid Volkov, a close associate of Navalny, says the draft bill is aimed squarely at the Kremlin critic, his supporters, and the staff members at its organizations.

"We have seen a mass of 'laws against Navalny,' but nothing this harsh. Contributed even just a penny to the FBK in the last year -- you cannot be elected to the State Duma. Worked as a coordinator for Navalny's team in the last three years -- you cannot be elected to the State Duma. Just read [the draft bill], there is fear in every sentence, " Volkov wrote on Telegram.

The pressure on Navalny has intensified greatly in the past eight months, starting with his poisoning in Siberia last August. But it goes back at least as far as December 2011, when Navalny helped lead protests prompted by anger over evidence of election fraud that benefited the Kremlin-controlled United Russia party and dismay at Vladimir Putin’s plans to return to the presidency in 2012 after four years as prime minister.

The elections must be held by September 19, and the United Russia party has been polling at historically low levels. Many observers link this to the government's latest crackdown on Navalny and his colleagues, as well as on other dissenters and independent media outlets.

Lyubov Sobol, another close Navalny associate and a lawyer for the FBK who has announced her intention to run for a seat in the State Duma in September, told Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, that the move by lawmakers is "a demonstration of United Russia's weakness."

"I think I am the person that the Kremlin [and] United Russia are scared of. And they will try, using that bill, to prevent me from taking part in the elections to the State Duma because they understand that if I am registered, I will win.... Because Moscow residents want change, they want decent, strong, and independent politicians.... The fact that they will try to label us as extremists to ban our participation in the elections shows that they are really afraid of us," Sobol said.

Volkov announced on April 29 that Navalny's regional network will be disbanded ahead of the Moscow City Court hearing on May 17 to avoid the prosecution of staff members.

With reporting by Current Time
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