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Andrei Pivovarov, figurehead of the Russian opposition, sentenced to prison

A Russian court on Friday sentenced a senior opposition figure to a year in prison, the latest move in the Kremlin’s multi-pronged crackdown on opposition activists, independent media and advocacy groups.

Andrei Pivovarov, a former head of the Open Russia group, was sentenced to four years in prison by a court in the southern city of Krasnodar. Pivovarov was charged with “leading an undesirable organization”, a criminal offense under a 2015 law. He maintained his innocence and insisted that the charges against him were brought because of his intention to stand for legislative elections in September 2021.

Pivovarov’s imprisonment and prosecution was part of a broad effort by President Vladimir Putin’s government to stifle dissent in Russia. It began with the arrest and imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in January 2021. Since then, dozens of opposition activists have faced prosecution and pressure from the authorities. Many left Russia, while others were imprisoned.

The crackdown intensified after Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, with the remaining Kremlin critics accused of publicly denouncing the war. Earlier this week, a Moscow court detained another opposition figure, Ilya Yashin, pending investigation and trial for spreading false information about the Russian military. Yashin was one of the few prominent opposition politicians who did not leave Russia.

Pivovarov was removed from a Warsaw-bound plane at Saint Petersburg airport just before takeoff in May 2021. He was taken to the southern city of Krasnodar, where he was accused of supporting a local candidate for the name of an “undesirable” organization. The charges were based on his social media posts supporting independent candidates in the Krasnodar municipal elections.

Pivovarov denied the charges and noted that the criminal case against him was opened two days after Open Russia was closed. The group disbanded to protect its members from prosecution after being designated as an “undesirable” organization.

Commenting on his sentencing on Friday, Pivovarov’s close ally Tatyana Usmanova vowed in a Facebook post that the fight for his freedom would continue. “An appeal, a cassation and the Supreme Court are before us, we will continue to fight,” Usmanova wrote.

Also on Friday, Russian authorities declared two investigative news outlets “undesirable”, banning their operation in Russia.

The attorney general’s office told Russian state news agency Tass that investigative group Bellingcat and Russian online media outlet The Insider, as well as the non-profit Czech institute CEELI, “pose a threat for the foundations of the constitutional order and the security (of the country)”.

The Insider, a media outlet registered in Latvia, has worked with Bellingcat on high-profile cases such as the nerve agent poisonings of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and Russian opposition leader Navalny. The websites of both have been blocked in Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Russian authorities have blocked dozens of news sites and taken off the air from renowned critical radio stations. The websites of several foreign media outlets have also been blocked in Russia, as Moscow seeks to control the narrative of what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

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Post expires at 1:53am on Thursday July 21st, 2022