- Russia opens a new criminal case against jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny that could allow authorities to hand him another decade in jail
- Mr Navalny is already serving two-and-a-half years in prison for parole violations he says were manufactured to derail his political ambitions
- On Tuesday, Russia’s Investigative Committee named Mr Navalny as being suspected of founding and leading an extremist group
- Mr Navalny’s allies say the new case shows how much Putin fears Navalny, an allegation the Kremlin has previously brushed off
Russia stepped up its campaign against Alexei Navalny on Tuesday, opening a new criminal case against the jailed Kremlin critic that could allow authorities to hand him another decade in jail.
In a case that’s been fiercely condemned by the West, Mr Navalny is already serving two-and-a-half years in prison for parole violations he says were manufactured to derail his political ambitions.
His allies have also had their homes raided and their freedom of movement restricted. Others fled the country after a court in June found their activities to be extremist and designed to stir up social unrest.
The Kremlin and its supporters have since said they will maintain — even intensify — their tough approach to both internal and external critics and organisations they view as a threat to Russia’s stability.
Details of the case were published on the website of Russia’s Investigative Committee, which examines major crimes, and named Navalny as being suspected of founding and leading an extremist group.
Such a crime carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
“The illegal activities of the extremist group were aimed at discrediting state authorities and their policies, destabilising the situation in the regions, creating a protest mood among the population and trying to form an opinion among the public about the need for a violent change of power, (and) organising and holding protest actions that escalate into mass riots,” the statement said.
Lyubov Sobol, an ally of Navalny’s who was also named in the statement, said on Twitter that the charges against her and others seemed absurd.
“The crimes of my colleagues: took part in elections, investigated the corruption of top officials and attended peaceful protests and wrote on Twitter….” she wrote.
Ms Sobol said the new case showed how much President Vladimir Putin feared Mr Navalny, an allegation the Kremlin has previously denied.
Last year, Mr Navalny was flown to Germany for medical treatment after being poisoned in Siberia with what Western experts concluded was the military nerve agent Novichok. He accused Mr Putin of ordering the attack, which the Kremlin also denied.
Moscow has rejected the allegations and the experts’ findings — prompting a fresh wave of sanctions against Russia — and accused the West of a smear campaign against it.