Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who submitted endorsement papers necessary for his registration as a presidential candidate, center, sits at the Russia’s Central Election commission in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Dec. 25, 2017. Russian election officials have formally barred Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from running for president. (Evgeny Feldman/Navalny Campaign via AP)

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who submitted endorsement papers necessary for his registration as a presidential candidate, center, sits at the Russia’s Central Election commission in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Dec. 25, 2017. Russian election officials have formally barred Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from running for president. (Evgeny Feldman/Navalny Campaign via AP)

Russian court restricts Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation

MOSCOW — A court in Moscow ruled Tuesday to restrict the activities of an organization founded by imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny pending a decision on whether it should be outlawed as an extremist group.

The Moscow City Court’s ruling on Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption came amid a sweeping crackdown on Russian President Vladimir Putin most prominent critic, his allies and his political infrastructure.

The Moscow prosecutor’s office petitioned the court this month to label the foundation and Navalny’s network of regional offices as extremist groups and effectively outlaw their activities, exposing members and supporters to lengthy prison terms.

If the court grants the request, it would be a crippling blow to Navalny’s beleaguered team. He has been in prison since January, and many of his aides and associates were arrested or face criminal charges.

On Monday, the prosecutor’s office ordered Navalny’s offices in dozens of Russian regions to suspend their activities, prompting them to effectively shut down. The Tuesday ruling on the foundation just barred it from performing certain activities.

Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer representing the foundation, said the organization is no longer allowed to use the media or the internet to distribute content or to organize rallies and public events, take part in elections or use bank deposits.

Restrictions on the foundation, however, will not disrupt its work, director Ivan Zhdanov said on social media, arguing that most of the restrictions don’t apply to the anti-corruption organization’s activities.

“Some nonsense,” Zhdanov tweeted. “(These) aren’t going to influence our work in any way.”

Navalny’s foundation opened 10 years ago and has since targeted high-ranking Russian officials with exposes on corruption, many in the form of colorful and widely watched YouTube videos.

One of its latest posts, which has received 116 million views, alleges that a lavish palace on the Black Sea shore was built for Putin through an elaborate corruption scheme. The Kremlin has denied there are any links to Putin. The

Along with the foundation, Navalny set up a vast network of regional offices in dozens of Russian regions when he was campaigning to run against Putin in the 2018 presidential election. He eventually was barred from running but kept the infrastructure in place.

The regional sites began their own investigations of graft by local officials and recruited activists, some of whom later ran for public offices themselves. The locations also were instrumental in organizing nationwide rallies in support of Navalny this year.

Navalny himself was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — accusations that Russian officials reject.

The arrest triggered protests across Russia that proved to be the biggest show of defiance in years. However, they didn’t stop authorities from putting Navalny on trial for violating the terms of a suspended sentence while he was in Germany. The sentence stemmed from a 2014 embezzlement conviction widely that Navalny has characterized as politically motivated. He was ordered to serve 2 1/2 years in prison and last month was transferred to a penal colony notorious for its harsh conditions.

The foundation and the regional offices have been targeted regularly with raids, fines and detentions of activists before, but the extremism petition takes the pressure to a new level, Navalny’s allies have said.

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