We condemn today’s decision by a Moscow court to designate as “extremist” three organizations affiliated with imprisoned opposition figure Aleksey Navalny. This designation puts staff members, volunteers, and thousands of supporters across Russia at risk of criminal prosecution and imprisonment for exercising fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, and it further restricts the ability of opposition candidates to appear on the ballot in the September Duma elections. With this action, Russia has effectively criminalized one of the country’s few remaining independent political movements.
While the scale of today’s action is particularly disturbing, it is indicative of the Russian government’s widening crackdown on political opposition, civil society, and independent media. Mr. Navalny himself remains in poor health, imprisoned on politically fabricated grounds. We call again for his immediate and unconditional release.
This is not the first time Russian authorities have labeled groups “extremist” in order to stigmatize supporters and justify abuses against them. In 2017, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were designated an “extremist” organization, effectively criminalizing the exercise of their peaceful religious practices. To date, dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been wrongly imprisoned, and hundreds more have faced harassment and discrimination for such simple acts as meeting to pray and handing out literature.
We urge Russia to cease the abuse of “extremism” designations to target nonviolent organizations, end its repression of Mr. Navalny and his supporters, and honor its international obligations to respect and ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Russian people, like all people, have the right to speak freely, form peaceful associations to common ends, exercise religious freedom, and have their voices heard through free and fair elections.