News of the Day: 20 April 2021

The Moscow Times: Alexei Navalny’s doctors were again denied access Tuesday to the jailed Kremlin critic, as lawyers for the hunger-striking opposition figure said he was “very weak” and demanded he be transferred to a civilian hospital. A team of medics has been trying to see the 44-year-old since early this month, after President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken opponent began refusing food on March 31 to demand proper medical treatment for a litany of ailments.

The Guardian: The Kremlin is preparing the most sweeping crackdown on Alexei Navalny’s followers since his emergence as an opposition leader in 2011, threatening to liquidate his entire political organisation as he fights for his life in a Russian prison. Using secret evidence, a Moscow court next week is set to declare Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and his regional political headquarters as extremist organisations, labels previously applied to Al-Qaida and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, exposing his staff, supporters, and financiers to stiff fines and even long jail terms. Navalny allies, who are gearing up for a last-ditch protest on Wednesday to call for the ailing dissident’s freedom, say that they are preparing for the worst.

RFE/RL: Human Rights Watch (HRW) has sharply criticized a “scandalous” request by Russian prosecutors to have the Anti-Corruption Foundation of imprisoned opposition politician Aleksei Navalny banned as an “extremist” organization. “If the designation is imposed, these organizations’ activities would be banned, and their staff members and supporters could face criminal prosecution and possible prison time,” the New York-based watchdog said in a statement on April 19. On April 16, the Moscow prosecutor’s office asked the Moscow City Court to label as “extremist” three organizations tied to Navalny — the Anti-Corruption Foundation, the Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation, and Navalny’s regional headquarters. Prosecutors said the organizations were “engaged in creating conditions for destabilizing the social and sociopolitical situation under the guise of their liberal slogans.”

The Moscow Times: President Vladimir Putin has signed a law Tuesday that will require electoral candidates who receive any amount of financial support from abroad to label themselves as “foreign agents.” Russia’s “foreign agents” law, first passed in 2012, has been gradually expanded in recent years to apply to any politically active individual or organization receiving funding from outside the country. Critics say the law’s rigorous auditing requirements for branded entities and steep fines for violations have a chilling effect on Russian civil society. Under the new law, candidates with the “foreign agent” designation will be required to indicate their status on all campaign materials, including websites, pamphlets and signs. Candidates affiliated with organizations on Russia’s “foreign agents” registry are also required to label themselves as “affiliated with a foreign agent.” The law expands the list of “foreign agent” entities prohibited from campaigning for or against a candidate to include unregistered NGOS, foreign media and Russian entities.  Additionally, political parties will be required report any of their members labeled “foreign agents” or affiliated persons in their campaign materials. This information must take up at least 15% of the campaign material’s surface area.

RFE/RL: A court in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk has sentenced a supporter of the imprisoned former governor of the Khabarovsk Krai region to one year in a prison settlement for using pepper spray against police at a rally in September 2020. The Zheleznodorozhny district court on April 20 found Denis Posmetyukhin guilty of resisting police during one of the ongoing rallies that demanded the immediate release of the region’s former governor, Sergei Furgal, and sentenced him the same day. A prison settlement is a penitentiary in which convicts live close to a facility where they work.

RFE/RL: The United States has again urged Russia to allow independent doctors to see Aleksei Navalny as the jailed Russian opposition politician ends the third week of a hunger strike amid concerns that his health is failing badly. “We call on them to allow for access to necessary and independent medical care immediately,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing on April 20, after a team of doctors seeking to examine Navalny was again turned away from the prison where he is being treated at an infirmary. Price added that Russian authorities were responsible for his deteriorating health and said the United States is “certainly looking and will not hesitate to use additional policy tools, should that be in our interest and in the interest of human rights in Russia, in the context of Mr. Navalny.”

RFE/RL: Allies of ailing, imprisoned Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny have not held back in delineating the stakes of their latest standoff with the Russian state. A wave of protests planned for April 21, they say, represents the “final battle between good and neutrality.” Members of Navalny’s embattled opposition movement, many of whom have fled Russia under the threat of incarceration, had planned not to announce new anti-government rallies until 500,000 people had registered online to take part. Strength in numbers, they said in viral clips posted online, was the only sure way to protect participants from police beatings and arrest. But on April 18, as the online tally passed 430,000 and Navalny’s doctors warned he may have only days to live as he continues his hunger strike in a prison outside Moscow, his team shifted gear and named April 21 as the date for nationwide demonstrations they hope can force concessions from President Vladimir Putin’s government. “Each of us, whether we like it or not, faces a choice,” Navalny’s team said in a video announcing the protests. “If we are silent now, Russia will be plunged into total darkness. Peaceful political activism in Russia will become impossible.”

The Guardian: [Maria Pevchikh] Have you ever watched a person being killed? I will answer for you. You have. You are watching it right now, not in some sick social media experiment, but as Vladimir Putin and his corrupt regime slowly but steadily murder a prisoner. It isn’t the first time they have done that, but this time, their intended victim is Alexei Navalny, the leader of the Russian opposition, who also happens to be my boss. Navalny has been on hunger strike for 20 days now. He is demanding medical attention from an independent civilian doctor. A basic request, but not when Putin views you as his number one problem. No food, no supplements, just water. His health is deteriorating quicker than world leaders can express concern, as he loses at least 2lbs a day. We got his blood test results last week. I couldn’t read a word of the scribbled note on a scrap of paper. But when we showed it to the doctors, there was that long doctors’ pause everybody knows, followed by their unanimous agreement: “He could die any minute.” He needs urgent treatment in an ICU, starting yesterday.

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