Russian authorities have restricted access to Alexei Navalny’s website and those of dozens of his close allies, the jailed opposition leader’s team said.
The move came as the government increased pressure on opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections. The September vote is widely seen as an important part of Vladimir Putin’s efforts to cement his reign ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
Putin, who has been in power for more than two decades, pushed through constitutional changes last year that would potentially allow him to stay in power until 2036.
Navalny’s website and those of his top strategist Leonid Volkov and longtime ally Lyubov Sobol were not available on Monday. The sites of the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation and a network of around 40 regional offices were not accessible, nor was the site of the Alliance of Doctors union, which Navalny supports, and an online page calling for his freedom. .
According to the Russian state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor, access to all websites was restricted at the request of the Russian Attorney General’s office. In a statement to the Interfax news agency, Roskomnadzor confirmed the blocking of sites because they were “used for propaganda purposes” by extremist groups.
They “decided to wipe us off the Internet completely,” tweeted Maria Pevchikh, an associate at Navalny.
Putin’s most ardent political enemy was arrested in January on his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from nerve poisoning he attributes to the Kremlin, a charge dismissed by authorities Russian.
He was ordered to serve two and a half years in prison in February for violating the terms of a suspended sentence of a 2014 embezzlement conviction which he dismissed as politically motivated.
His arrest and imprisonment sparked a wave of protests across Russia’s 11 time zones in what appeared to be a major challenge for the Kremlin. Authorities responded with mass arrests of protesters and criminal charges against Navalny’s closest associates.
The government has also banned the Anti-Corruption Foundation, which Navalny founded 10 years ago, and has released dozens of widely watched videos exposing the alleged corruption of senior officials, as an extremist group, as well as the network of regional offices. on which he had relied to organize demonstrations.
The decision not only banned the foundation and offices from functioning, but also prevents people associated with them from running for public office and exposes them to long prison terms.
Navalny’s team stressed on Monday that the Smart Voting website, a project to support candidates most likely to defeat those of the dominant United Russia Kremlin party in various elections, remained available.
Volkov suggested authorities could block the strategic site in the run-up to the September elections, in which Navalny’s team plans to roll out the smart voting project.
Ivan Zhdanov, a close ally of Navalny, said in an Instagram post that the team was not surprised the websites were blocked and they were ready for such a move. He urged supporters to follow the Navalny team and its members on social media, “where it’s harder to block us,” and download a mobile app that contains all of the recent surveys and the Smart Voting project.
“An application cannot currently be blocked,” he wrote.