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Russian authorities block dozens of Navalny-linked websites

Last Updated Jul 26, 2021 at 7:21 am PDT

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities have restricted access to the website of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, as well as dozens of sites run by his close allies, Navalny’s team said Monday.

The move comes as pressure mounts on opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists in Russia ahead of September’s parliamentary election. The vote is widely seen as an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to cement his rule before the 2024 presidential election.

The 68-year-old Russian leader, who has been in power for more than two decades, pushed through constitutional changes last year that would potentially allow him to hold onto power until 2036.

Navalny’s website, as well as the website of his top strategist Leonid Volkov and longtime ally Lyubov Sobol were unavailable on Monday. The websites of Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and the network of about 40 regional offices, which) were outlawed as extremist groups last month, were also unavailable — and so were the website of the Navalny-backed Alliance of Doctors union and an online page calling for Navalny’s freedom.

According to Russia’s state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor, access to all of these websites has been restricted at the behest of the Russian Prosecutor General’s office.

“(They) have decided to completely wipe us out of the Internet,” Navalny’s associate Maria Pevchikh tweeted.

Navalny, who is Putin’s most ardent political foe, was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — an accusation that Russian officials reject.

In February, Navalny was ordered to serve 2 1/2 years in prison for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he dismissed as politically motivated.

His arrest and jailing sparked a wave of mass protests across Russia’s 11 time zones, in what appeared to be a major challenge for the Kremlin. The authorities responded with mass arrests of demonstrators and the criminal prosecutions of Navalny’s closest associates.

The politician’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption, which was founded 10 years ago and authored dozens of colorful and widely watched videos exposing the alleged corruption senior government, was labeled as an extremist group along with the network of regional offices Navalny has relied on to organize protests. Both the foundation and the offices were barred from operating.

Navalny’s team pointed out Monday that the website of the Smart Voting strategy — a project to support the candidates most likely to defeat those from the Kremlin’s dominant United Russia party in various elections — remained available.

Strategist Volkov suggested that the authorities might block it “closer to the election” in September, in which Navalny’s team plans to deploy the Smart Voting project.

Daria Litvinova, The Associated Press