Two people involved in Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s recent political campaign have said they have fled Russia, as the imprisoned opposition leader launches a new bid to challenge his classification as an extremist by prison authorities.
In recent months, Russian authorities have cracked down on groups affiliated with Navalny, 45, who is widely regarded as President Vladimir Putin’s number one foe both at home and abroad. He is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence in prison for parole violations in connection with a fraud case he claims was politically motivated.
For starters, in June, a court ruled that Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation was extremist. Then, after his supporters regrouped around a new network of organizations formed in preparation for the September parliamentary election, authorities began investigating campaign staffers on the same extremism charges.
Several Navalny allies have already fled Russia.
Irina Fatyanova, the former Navalny campaign chief in St Petersburg, wrote on Tuesday in her Telegram channel that her decision to leave Russia was prompted by the arrest of fellow campaign manager Liliya Chanysheva earlier this month.
“The case of Liliya Chanysheva changed a lot for me and made me realize I needed to leave,” she explained.
Chanysheva could face up to 10 years in prison.
Lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov, who had represented Navalny’s campaign, told Reuters he had also left Russia “due to constant pressure” which he said included surveillance, although he did not rule out returning to the country.
Navalny himself has launched his fourth lawsuit attempting to challenge the decision by prison authorities to designate him as a person who follows extremist ideology – which carries additional restrictions compared with regular inmates, his lawyer Vadim Kobzev said.
Navalny was flown to Germany last year for medical treatment after being poisoned in Siberia with what Western experts concluded was the military nerve agent Novichok.
The Russian government has denied it was behind the poisoning and rejected the experts’ findings – which prompted a fresh wave of sanctions against Russia – and accused the West of a smear campaign against it.