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Russia Detains Lawyers of Jailed Opposition Leader, Aleksei Navalny

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Russian authorities on Friday detained three lawyers representing the jailed opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny in what his supporters said was a government-led attempt to continue to isolate him and further limit his ability to influence the country’s political life.

In a series of statements, Mr. Navalny’s team members said that the lawyers, Vadim Kobzev, Igor Sergunin, and Aleksei Liptser, were being investigated on suspicion of belonging to an extremist group and that their homes had been searched before the men were detained.

Speaking during a court hearing on Friday, Mr. Navalny, 47, who had been sentenced by Russian courts to 19 years in prison overall on charges of fraud, embezzlement, contempt of court, and extremism, said that the fact that his lawyers were being investigated “characterizes well the state of justice in Russia.”

“As during the Soviet times, they persecute not only political activists and turn them into political prisoners, but also their lawyers,” said Mr. Navalny, a fervent critic of President Vladimir V. Putin, according to a recording posted by his team on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.

The invasion of Ukraine has crushed the pro-Western, anti-Putin opposition movement within Russia. The Kremlin used the war to rapidly increase pressure on opposition leaders and activists, with most of them facing stark choices: flee the country, face persecution, or halt all public activities. Those who fled were further fractured by internal infighting and a sense of alienation from the general public in Russia.

Mr. Navalny appeared in court for a hearing of the latest in a series of lawsuits he filed against his penal colony. He is expected to be transferred soon to a harsher “special regime” prison as part of a sentence he received in August.

Despite being imprisoned under increasingly harsh conditions, Mr. Navalny has been able to maintain a significant presence in the Russian social and political life by filing lawsuits against government establishments, speaking up during court hearings and publishing statements on social media.

That activity was largely possible with the help of his lawyers, who had also provided him with legal support in his judicial pursuits against the Russian government.

In August, Mr. Navalny published a lengthy and widely discussed statement in which he accused Russia’s first post-Soviet president, Boris N. Yeltsin, and his allies of “ruining the historic chance” to prevent the return of harsh authoritarianism.

Earlier in August, a Russian court sentenced Mr. Navalny to 19 years in prison on charges of supporting “extremism,” and ordered his transfer to one of the harshest prisons in the country.

Leonid Volkov, an aide to Mr. Navalny, said on X that the arrest of his lawyers was “an act of intimidation with a clear intention to strengthen Navalny’s isolation from the outer world.”

Mr. Volkov added that the prospect that Mr. Navalny would be left without legal support from his lawyers ahead of his transfer to a new penal facility was “terrifying.”

“His lawyers will not be able to visit him there or even to find out his whereabouts if they’re locked up themselves,” he said.

Mr. Navalny rose to prominence in the early 2010s first as an anti-corruption lawyer and blogger. In 2011, he led mass protests that contested the 2011 parliamentary elections in Russia. In 2013, he ran for mayor of Moscow, garnering more than 600,000 votes and coming close to forcing the Kremlin-favored candidate into a second round of voting.

Over years, Mr. Navalny had gradually built a robust political organization with a network of offices and activists spanning across Russia. Even though he had no access to state television, his lacerating criticism of the Russian ruling elite has earned him thousands of dedicated followers in big Russian cities.

But Mr. Navalny’s increased political appeal came hand in hand with the Kremlin’s efforts to silence him and his followers, culminating in a failed attempt in 2020 to poison him with a military-grade nerve agent. He and Western officials described the poisoning as an assassination attempt by the Kremlin, which denied involvement.

In January 2021, Mr. Navalny returned to Russia after spending months in Germany recovering from the poisoning attempt. He was arrested upon arrival in a Moscow airport. His political organization was outlawed and many of its activists were detained and many others fled into exile.

Since his return, new criminal cases were opened against Mr. Navalny. While in prison, he spent months in harsh so-called punishment cells. His supporters have said that they did not expect him to be released from prison while Mr. Putin remained in power.



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