Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny has said that he is facing new criminal accusations that could extend his current nine-year prison term.
Navalny said on Instagram earlier this week that an investigator visited him in prison to declare that the authorities have opened a new investigation against him on charges of creating an extremist group to fan hatred against officials and oligarchs and trying to stage unsanctioned rallies.
He added that the charges could keep him in prison for another 15 years if he’s convicted.
Navalny, the most determined political foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was arrested in January 2021 upon returning from Germany, where he had been recuperating from nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, and handed a 2-year sentence for a parole violation.
In March, Navalny was sentenced to nine years in prison on fraud and contempt of court charges he rejected as politically motivated, a move that signalled an attempt by the authorities to keep him behind bars for as long as possible.
The new sentence followed a year-long Kremlin crackdown on Navalny’s supporters, other opposition activists and independent journalists in which authorities appear eager to stifle all dissent.
Navalny’s close associates have faced criminal charges and left the country, and his group’s political infrastructure — an anti-corruption foundation (Foundation for Fighting Corruption) and a nationwide network of regional offices — has been destroyed after being labeled an extremist organisation (a designation that exposes people involved to prosecution).
Shortly after his arrest in 2021, a court sentenced him to 2½ years in prison over the parole violations stemming from a 2014 suspended sentence in a fraud case that Navalny insists was politically driven.
Following Navalny’s imprisonment, authorities unleashed a sweeping crackdown on his associates and supporters.
In February 2022, Russian officials added Navalny and a number of his associates to a state registry of extremists and terrorists.
Several criminal cases have been launched against Navalny individually, leading his associates to suggest the Kremlin intends to keep him behind bars for as long as possible. “(Putin’s) only method is killing people. However much he pretends to be a great geo-politician, he’ll go down in history as a poisoner. There was Alexander the Liberator, Yaroslav the Wise, and Putin the Underwear Poisoner,” Navalny had said in February.
Meanwhile, Russia has suggested that Navalny is a CIA asset, a charge he rejects, and has told the West to stay out of its domestic affairs.