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Democracy Activist Calls Situation In Russia A 'Farce' After Court Detains Him For Two Months

Andrei Pivovarov gestures from behind the glass during a court hearing in Krasnodar on June 2.

A court has ordered the detention of the former executive director of Open Russia, a pro-democracy movement, for two months after he was removed from a Warsaw-bound plane in St. Petersburg just before departure.

The court in the southern city of Krasnodar ruled on June 2 that Andrei Pivovarov should be held for two months after the authorities accused him of publishing a post on social media supporting a local election candidate last year on behalf of an "undesirable" organization.

"Don't you think it's a farce when a Facebook post poses a threat to state security?" Pivovarov asked the judge during the hearing.

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The hearing came less than a day after another Kremlin critic, opposition politician and former State Duma Deputy Dmitry Gudkov, was placed in custody on suspicion he failed to pay a debt under a lease agreement for a nonresidential premise in 2015-17.

A court in Moscow is set to consider later on June 2 whether to extend the detention of Gudkov, who says he is being held to prevent him from running in parliamentary elections in September.

The Kremlin said on June 2 that "the accusations filed by law enforcement agencies have no relation to politics," but many critics say the moves are further signs of how President Vladimir Putin is stepping up his campaign to limit his opponents before the autumn vote.

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Open Russia was financed by Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who moved to London after spending 10 years in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as political revenge for challenging Putin's rule.

The organization associated with Pivovarov was based in Russia and no longer legally connected with the London-based group with the same name that ended its operations in 2017.

Leaders of the Russian-based Open Russia dissolved the group last week, after it was designated an "undesirable organization," saying the move was made to protect its supporters from further "harassment" by the authorities.

Khodorkovsky told AP in an interview on June 1 that the slump in popularity of the ruling United Russia party had pushed officials to crack down on dissent.

"The government is afraid of potential protests that could emerge if they cheat too flagrantly," Khodorkovsky said. "They are trying to sanitize the political environment before the election."

The "undesirable organization" law, adopted in May 2015, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources -- mainly from Europe and the United States.