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From court, Navalny accuses Russia's leaders of treason

by Compiled Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | April 30, 2021 at 3:54 a.m.

MOSCOW -- Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny virtually appeared Thursday in court, decrying Russia's political leaders as traitors as his headquarters and regional offices disbanded while facing a prosecutor's court motion to ban them as extremists.

Leonid Volkov, director of Navalny's headquarters, which includes nearly 40 regional offices, said it was not safe to continue operating with the court almost certain to confirm a ban.

Navalny, looking thin, appeared in court for the first time since ending his hunger strike in a separate case as he appealed his February libel conviction. He lost the appeal. He announced last weekend the end to the strike after gaining access to doctors he trusted.

He said his daily food intake was rising from 370 calories Wednesday to 450 Thursday to 530 today.

Navalny asked his wife Yulia to stand up so he could see her via video.

"I'm awfully glad to see you," he said, and she responded in kind. He said he weighed 158 pounds and looked "like a skeleton.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch »]

Addressing the judge, he said the prosecutor's motion to ban several of his organizations was an attempt "to make extremists of me and people like me, patriots of the country who protect the country from you traitors."

Calling President Vladimir Putin a "naked king," he said that "twenty years of his fruitless rule have come to this result: The crown is slipping off his ears, there are lies on television, we have wasted trillions of rubles and our country continues to slide into poverty."

He accused Putin and his government of "turning Russians into slaves.

The demise of Navalny's network of offices -- from Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea to Vladivostok on the Pacific -- represents the end of an era in Russian politics, when the opposition leader controlled the country's most formidable nationwide political infrastructure dedicated to toppling Putin.

The move seems likely to push the resistance further underground, after several months in which the Kremlin's yearslong effort to suppress dissent has entered a more aggressive phase.

The case on the extremist designation, to be heard by a closed Russian court, will rule on whether three organizations, including Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, qualify as extremist groups. If confirmed, it would mark the Kremlin's most sweeping effort to crush Navalny's organization and would mean that his staff and supporters could face jail.

The opposition's move to disband even before the court decision was based on its view that a ban was inevitable and that acting was necessary to protect staff.

"Alas, we must be honest. It's impossible to work under these conditions," Volkov said in a YouTube video, warning that continuing to operate would expose supporters of the opposition leader to criminal prosecution. "We are officially disbanding the network of Navalny offices."

If the court bans the organizations, they would be barred from using online platforms to convey their messages -- tools used with devastating effect to spread their allegations of corruption by Russian officials, members of Putin's United Russia party, oligarchs and the president himself. Supporters retweeting or reposting such materials could be prosecuted.

Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation has published a series of hard-hitting reports on corruption, including "Putin's Palace: History of the World's Largest Bribe," viewed on YouTube more than 116 million times.

"The prosecutor's office writes in plain black and white text, 'We forbid you to fight corruption. The fight against corruption, your participation in elections and rallies is "extremism,'" a post on Navalny's website read Thursday.

Much of the evidence in the court case is a state secret, meaning the Russian public may never learn its basis. The crime being investigated, the Russian state-run Tass news agency said, was "the creation of a nonprofit organization infringing on the privacy and rights of citizens."

'A great disapointment'

Some of Navalny's associates are keeping the foundation running from outside Russia.

In a video statement Thursday, Volkov assured supporters that Navalny's team wasn't giving up and that most of the regional offices will continue to exist as independent political entities.

"The networks of Navalny's headquarters doesn't exist anymore, but there are dozens of strong and tough regional politicians, thousands of their supporters, there are strong and independent political organizations which will work on investigations and elections, public campaigns and rallies. You will help them, and they will succeed," Volkov said.

In Perm, a city of 1 million about 620 miles east of Moscow, coordinator Sergei Ukhov unscrewed a plaque saying "Alexei Navalny's Headquarters" from a building wall. He said shutting it down was "a great disappointment -- four years of my life have passed here."

"Of course, for me it's not the end," Ukhov added, echoing Volkov's sentiment. "I will continue my personal political career, and I will work on the elections, which will be held in September, so I look to the future with hope, no matter what."

Information for this article was contributed by Robyn Dixon of The Washington Post; by Daria Litvinova and Alexander Roslyakov of The Associated Press; and by Anton Troianovski of The New York Times.


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