Russia starts criminal investigation into Navalny, allies over alleged extremism

Russia starts criminal investigation into Navalny, allies over alleged extremism
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The Investigative Committee of Russia on Tuesday announced a criminal probe into opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his allies over allegedly promoting extremism in the country.

Authorities claim Navalny’s groups such as the Foundation for the Fight against Corruption used local offices and social media for "discrediting state authorities and their policies, destabilizing the situation in the regions, creating a protest mood among the population and shaping public opinion about the need for a violent change of power, organizing and holding protest actions that escalate into riots.”

The criminal investigation comes almost a week after Russia said it would continue to crack down on opposition leaders and organizations such as Navalny's despite the recent conclusion of parliamentary elections.

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“We’ve never been any kind of extremists,” Lyubov Sobol, an ally of Navalny who was named in the probe, told The Associated Press. “We took part in elections, participated in peaceful protests against injustice, we worked on investigations that received dozens of millions of views on YouTube in corruption of officials, lawmakers, [President Vladimir] Putin and his inner circle. Our activity has always remained within the law.”

Navalny is in jail on what he says are trumped-up charges after he left the country last fall to seek medical treatment after a poison attack, which he and Western nations believe was carried out by the Kremlin.

Moscow, which has denied involvement in the poisoning, says Navalny was arrested for violating his parole.

Navalny’s organizations were declared extremist groups in June with anyone associated with them barred from running in the parliamentary elections and open to investigation. 

The country also had Navalny’s voting app taken down before elections that promoted opposition candidates. 

“Everyone has been asking, whether the pressure would ease after the election. Here’s the answer. A week after the election — a new criminal case against Navalny, Volkov, Zhdanov, Sobol, Alburov, Shaveddinov,” Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokesperson, said. “This is the fourth criminal case launched against Alexei while he’s in prison.”