Russian authorities have added imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny and some of his top allies to the register of terrorists and extremists, the latest move in a multi-pronged crackdown on opposition supporters, independent media and human rights activists.
Mr Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic, and eight of his allies — including Lyubov Sobol and Georgy Alburov — were on Tuesday added to the register by Russia’s Federal Financial Monitoring Service.
The law requires that the bank accounts of those on the list be frozen.
The move comes just a over a year after Mr Navalny’s arrest, which triggered a wave of the biggest protests across the country in years.
The politician was detained on his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have denied any involvement.
He was ordered to serve two and a half years in prison for violating the terms of a suspended sentence stemming from a 2014 fraud conviction.
In the following months, Mr Navalny’s brother Oleg and many of his allies also faced criminal charges, and the authorities outlawed his Foundation for Fighting Corruption and a sprawling network of regional offices as extremist, paralysing their operation.
The Russian authorities have also ratcheted up pressure on independent media and human rights groups in recent months. Dozens have been labelled as foreign agents — a designation that implies additional government scrutiny and strong pejorative connotations that discredit the recipient.
Some were declared “undesirable” — a label that outlaws organisations in Russia — or were accused of links to “undesirable” groups, and several were forced to shut down or disband to prevent further prosecution.
Officials on Tuesday also petitioned the courts to have Oleg Navalny serve his one-year suspended sentence in prison.
Last year he and his brother’s top allies were convicted of violating coronavirus regulations over the protests in support of the politician, and he was handed a one-year suspended sentence.
Previously Oleg Navalny was convicted of fraud alongside his brother in 2014, but while Alexei received a suspended sentence, Oleg was ordered to serve three and a half years in prison.
He was released in June 2018.
Ms Sobol, who had left the country after two trials on criminal charges last year, told the Associated Press on Tuesday she believed the decision to add Mr Navalny, herself and other allies to the register was made in the Kremlin.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that the decision regarding myself, Navalny and my closest associates and colleagues was made in the Kremlin with personal contribution by Vladimir Putin. I think he has all matters involving our team under a special control, and it’s not a decision made by lower-ranked officials,” she said.
The crackdown on Alexei Navalny and other dissenting voices in Russia has elicited outrage in the West.
On Tuesday, EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano reiterated that “this is not acceptable, that we see this as a continued repression against the critical voices in Russian society”.