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Navalny barred from leaving Russia ahead of ECHR ruling

Aleksei Navalny (Evgeny Feldman/Novaya Gazeta/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny says authorities have barred him from leaving the country to attend a ruling at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg on a case he filed against the state.

Navalny, a fierce Kremlin critic, posted on Instagram and tweeted on November 13 that airport passport-control officers stopped him for what they said were “special checking measures.”

Navalny said they cited “some letter [saying] that I am prohibited from leaving, but there is no explanation why.”

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The letter, which Navalny later posted on his website, cites a decision by the Federal Bailiffs Service (FSSP) but gives no explanation.

The FSSP later issued a statement saying that Navalny was barred from leaving Russia due to what it said is debt to Kirovles, a timber company at the center of a politically charged criminal case in which he has now been convicted twice.

The FSSP later said the fine was paid and that restrictions on Navalny’s travel had been lifted.

Navalny had planned to fly to Frankfurt ahead the ECHR ruling, which the Strasbourg-based court is scheduled to issue on November 15.

The court is to issue its final decision in a suit against Russia claiming that Navalny’s arrest, detention, and administrative conviction on several occasions between 2012-14 breached his rights and were politically motivated.

It is a ruling in appeal after Russia challenged a February 2017 decision in Navalny’s favor.

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Navalny, 42, said that the message the authorities sent in barring him from leaving the country was obvious.

“It’s clear what they want: Don’t go running around to any ECHRs. The Lyublino district court is in your area of residence — if you don’t like something, go there,” he wrote.

A vocal foe of President Vladimir Putin, Navalny has organized large street protests on several occasions and published a series of reports alleging corruption among the long-serving leader’s allies.

On October 14, he walked free after spending 50 days in jail on administrative charges related to antigovernment protests he has organized.

A spokeswoman said that, at the time, Navalny had spent nearly 200 days in jail since 2011, including 140 days since the start of his attempt to challenge Putin in the March 2018 presidential election.

Electoral authorities barred Navalny from the ballot, citing convictions in two financial-crimes cases he and his supporters contend were Kremlin-orchestrated efforts to punish him for his opposition activity and for the reports alleging corruption.

In its statement hours after Navalny was stopped at the airport, the FSSP cited one of those cases, saying that Navalny could not leave Russia until he made what it said was a court-ordered payment of 2.1 million rubles ($31,000) to Kirovles.

Navalny and an associate, Pyotr Ofitserov, were convicted in 2013 of stealing money from Kirovles, a state company. Navalny, his supporters, and many observers say the charges were trumped up in retaliation for Navalny’s opposition activity.

Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison but he was allowed to run in a Moscow mayoral election and the sentence was then suspended, sparing him from serving time in prison. Ofitserov was sentenced to a suspended term of four years.

In 2016, the ECHR ruled that the Kirovles trial was unfair and that the two men had been convicted of actions “indistinguishable from regular commercial activity.”

The Russian Supreme Court then threw out the 2013 convictions and ordered a new trial.

In February 2017, the lower court again convicted the two men and handed down the same suspended prison sentences to both men. In July, Ofitserov died at age 43 after suffering an unexplained concussion.