MOSCOW (AFP) – Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption group vowed yesterday to fight on, despite a court ruling branding it an “extremist” organisation and requiring it to shut down.
Western countries and the European Union (EU) were quick to condemn Wednesday’s late-night ruling, but senior Russian officials doubled down, describing Navalny as an agent collaborating with Washington.
The court decision was the latest in a series of moves against critics of President Vladimir Putin, with some of his loudest opponents fleeing the country and several prominent activist groups and independent media shutting down.
The ruling bans Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and a network of regional offices from continuing to operate and, under a recently passed law, prevents those previously associated with the groups from running in parliamentary elections.
The FBK was defiant, saying in a Twitter post: “We woke up, smiled with destructive intent and knowing that we are a ‘danger to society’ will continue to fight corruption!”
What exactly the group will be able to do is unclear in the wake of the ruling, which followed a hearing behind closed doors.
Navalny’s closest allies still in Russia are under close law enforcement supervision, some under house arrest, and other prominent aides have fled the country.
Navalny himself was jailed for more than two-and-a-half years in February after he returned to Russia from Germany where he had been convalescing after a poisoning attack in Siberia that be blamed on the Kremlin.
After Wednesday’s ruling Navalny, who is in a penal colony outside Moscow, acknowledged supporters would need to alter their strategy.
“But we will not retreat from our goals and ideas. This is our country and we have no other,” the 45-year-old said in an Instagram post.
The European Union on Thursday condemned the court decision, describing it as the latest effort to “suppress” Russia’s opposition.