MOSCOW, April 29 — A key aide to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said today his organisation was disbanding its national network ahead of a court ruling expected to declare it an extremist organisation.
The announcement came as Navalny made his first video appearance in court since ending a hunger strike last week, appearing gaunt in a prison uniform and with a buzz haircut.
During the hearing, which is part of an appeal by Navalny against a defamation sentence imposed in February for insulting a World War II veteran, the opposition figure said he had lost more weight but had started eating again.
“I was taken to a bathhouse yesterday... there was a mirror there, I looked at myself — I am just a horrible skeleton,” Navalny told the court, according to an audio recording released by the independent Dozhd television channel.
Another court was holding a hearing today into a request from prosecutors that Navalny’s regional network and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) be recognised as extremist, equating the organisations with the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.
If the request is met, their activities would be banned, putting members and supporters at risk of lengthy jail time.
The head of the regional networks said Thursday it had already been decided to shutter the network.
“We are officially disbanding Navalny’s network,” Leonid Volkov said in a video posted on social media.
He said some of the offices would continue their activities as independent organisations.
Earlier this week, prosecutors ordered the network to suspend its activities ahead of the ruling and a court imposed sweeping bans on FBK.
FBK was launched in 2011 and routinely releases investigations into alleged corruption by officials at all levels of government, often accompanied by YouTube videos.
The regional network was founded during Navalny’s presidential campaign in 2018, although the opposition figure was barred from running.
It later supported his graft investigations as well as the Smart Voting strategy, which directs voters to cast their ballots for candidates best placed to defeat Kremlin-linked opponents.
Navalny was arrested in January after returning to Russia from Germany, where he had spent months recovering from a poisoning attack that he says was orchestrated by President Vladimir Putin.
He is serving a two-and a-half year sentence in a penal colony outside Moscow for violating parole terms on old fraud charges he and his allies say are politically motivated.
The opposition figure refused food for three weeks, demanding adequate medical treatment in prison for severe back pain and numbness in his limbs.
Last week he ended the 24-day hunger strike after he was examined at a civilian hospital. — AFP