EU condemns Russia's 'unfounded' ban on Navalny groups

In this photo taken on Jan 23, 2021, law enforcement officers stand in front of participants during a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Saint Petersburg. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Union on Thursday (June 10) denounced a Russian court ruling that branded "extremist" the political organisations of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and barred them from working.

"Yesterday's ruling by a Moscow Court to label Mr Alexei Navalny's organisations as 'extremist groups' marks the most serious effort to date by the Russian Government to suppress the independent political opposition and anti-corruption investigations," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement on behalf of the 27 member states.

The statement said the move was intended "to eliminate Mr Navalny's political networks' influence ahead of the State Duma elections in September, and beyond."

"It is an unfounded decision that confirms a negative pattern of a systematic crackdown on human rights and freedoms which are enshrined in the Russian constitution," it said.

The bloc repeated its calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Navalny following his "politically motivated" jailing.

The EU has slapped sanctions on 10 senior Russian officials over last year's poisoning of Navalny with a Novichok nerve agent and his arrest and sentencing this year.

Moscow hit back by imposing entry bans on a number of Europeans, including high-ranking EU officials.

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