In the southern city of Krasnodar, a court ordered Andrei Pivovarov, the head of the recently disbanded Open Russia movement, to be held for two months pending an investigation, rejecting the defense’s appeal against his arrest.
Last week, Open Russia leaders disbanded the group to protect its members from prosecution after Russian authorities designated it as an “undesirable” organization along with more than 30 others, using a 2015 law that criminalized the membership in such organizations.
Pivovarov rejected the charges, noting during the court hearing that the criminal investigation against him was opened two days after the closure of Open Russia.
He was taken off a Warsaw-bound plane at St. Petersburg airport just before take-off on Monday night and taken to Krasnodar, where authorities accused him of supporting a local election candidate last year on behalf of an “undesirable” organization.
On Wednesday, a Moscow court will also consider investigators’ request to lock up Dmitry Gudkov, a former Russian legislator who has aspired to run again for a seat in parliament. Gudkov was arrested Tuesday on financial charges that he and his supporters allege were fabricated.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the suggestions of political motives for the Gudkov and Pivovarov investigations, telling reporters that “the allegations brought by law enforcement agencies are unrelated to politics.”
Open Russia was funded by Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who moved to London after spending 10 years in prison in Russia on charges that are seen as political revenge for defying Putin’s government.
Speaking to The Associated Press in a Zoom interview on Tuesday, Khodorkovsky said the recent crackdown on dissent reflects the authorities’ concern over the dwindling popularity of the main Kremlin-led United Russia party.
“The authorities are not so sure of the results they can get in September,” Khodorkovsky told the AP. “That is why the Kremlin is trying to crush all possible political opponents.”
Putin’s most determined political enemy, Alexei Navalny, was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, charges that Russian officials dismiss. In February, he received a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence for violating the terms of a suspended sentence stemming from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he denounced on political grounds.
A court in the city of Petushki, in the Vladimir region east of Moscow, on Wednesday rejected Navalny’s appeal asking to halt the hourly nightly checks he has been subjected to in his penal colony.
Speaking to the court in a video link from prison, Navalny charged that the checks “effectively amount to torture” and argued that he has done nothing to justify the authorities’ decision to designate him as a flight risk that has resulted in to controls.
He went on a 24-day hunger strike at the prison to protest the lack of medical treatment for severe back pain and numbness in his legs, and ended last month after receiving the medical attention he demanded.
With Navalny in prison, prosecutors have asked a Moscow court to designate its Anti-Corruption Foundation and its network of regional offices as extremist groups. At the same time, a bill passed by the lower house of the Russian parliament prohibits members, donors and supporters of extremist groups from seeking public office, a move that would prevent Navalny associates from running for parliament in September.
Khodorkovsky argued that the September 19 parliamentary elections are important for Putin to cement his rule before the 2024 Russian presidential elections. Putin, 68, who has been in power for more than two decades, pushed for constitutional changes last year. past that would potentially allow him to stay in power until 2036.