On Wednesday, Russian authorities issued a fresh criminal accusation against Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, the latest step in a crackdown ahead of September’s legislative election that could extend his sentence by up to three years.
Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most vehement domestic adversary, is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for what he considers fabricated parole violations. He was apprehended after returning to the United States from Germany, where he had been recovering from a nerve agent overdose.
Navalny has been charged with founding an organization that “infringes on the individuality and rights of citizens,” a crime punishable by up to three years in prison, according to the Investigative Committee, which investigates serious crimes.
A sentence of that length might keep Navalny in detention until the 2024 presidential election, when Putin’s current six-year tenure in the Kremlin expires.
Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, according to the Investigative Committee, incited Russians to disobey the law and participate in unauthorized protests seeking his release in January, which authorities stated were illegal.
Navalny and his allies have faced pressure for years, but his political network was outlawed in June after a court formally labelled his anti-corruption foundation and regional campaign groups as extremist.
Several of his closest allies have left the country for fear of prosecution, and his team has also disbanded their regional groups to protect activists.
Allies who post on social media under the name Team Navalny described the accusation as “the latest meaningless charge”.
“No one infringes on the personality and rights of citizens like Putin himself and all his henchmen, including the Investigative Committee,” they said on Telegram messenger.
The charge comes a day after the Investigative Committee on Tuesday announced a new criminal investigation into two close Navalny allies, who are based abroad, for raising funds for his political network.
On Sunday, Russian media outlets reported that Lyubov Sobol, a close Navalny associate, had left Russia and flown to Turkey. She has not commented on her whereabouts and her allies have declined to comment.