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Russian court orders Alexei Navalny's anti-corruption foundation to suspend activities

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny  in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia on Feb. 12, 2021.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia on Feb. 12, 2021.   -   Copyright  Babuskinsky District Court Press Service via AP
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Russian authorities on Monday ordered the anti-corruption foundation of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to suspend its activities.

"The court has suspended the work of FBK and Navalny's headquarters pending the court's decision," the foundation, FBK, tweeted on Monday.

A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for April 29, FBK director Ivan Zhdanov said in social media posts.

"They are going to destroy our team in secret, without drawing attention to it, and the case has been classified," he wrote. He said that with the decision the authorities "are just shouting here: we are afraid of your activities, we are afraid of your rallies, we are afraid of smart voting."

Earlier this month, the Moscow prosecutor's office had asked the court to declare FBK as an extremist group and its staff as extremists.

Navalny, 44, is currently serving a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence in a penal colony for violating the terms of his probation over an earlier conviction for embezzlement while he was recovering from a nerve agent attack in Germany.

The opposition figure was arrested in January upon landing in Russia following his five-month convalescence in a Berlin hospital.

Mass rallies calling for his release were held across the country last week, following a warning from his medical team that he "could die at any minute".

Navalny, who had been complaining of severe back pain and a loss of sensation in his legs — symptoms his team believed to be related to his Novichok poisoning — was then in his third week of hunger strike, launched over the authorities' decision to deny him access to his personal doctors.

He ended his hunger strike on Friday, saying that he had started "losing sensitivity" in his hands and legs and that "given the circumstances" it was best to resume eating.

He stressed that he had been examined twice in the days preceding the rallies but that he was still unable to see his personal doctors.

The penitentiary services have said throughout that his health condition is "satisfactory".

Navalny, a lawyer, launched the non-profit FBK in 2011 to investigate corruption in Russia. It published reports as well as videos on Youtube.

A video showing a palace purported to belong to Russian President Vladimir Putin, which FBK said had been financed through an elaborate corruption scheme, was seen over 42 million times in the first 48 hours of its release online three months ago.

Despite regular police raids at the organisation's offices as well as legal rulings — it was sentenced for money laundering and later forced to liquidate after being fined for another case — pro-Navalny candidates have been gaining grounds during elections.

Regional elections in September 2020, just weeks after Navalny was poisoned, saw allies of the opposition leader win multiple council seats.

FBK had been campaigning for "smart voting", urging people to cast their ballot for the candidate most likely to defeat the one fielded by the ruling United Russia party.