Russian court sends an associate of Kremlin foe Navalny to prison for 7 1/2 years

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Lilia Chanysheva makes a heart gesture as she is standing in a cage during a hearing in a courtroom of the Kirovskiy District Court in Ufa, Russia, Wednesday, June 14, 2023. Chanysheva, who used to head imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny's office in the Russian region of Bashkortostan, was convicted of extremism charges and sentenced to 7.5 years in prison. The charges against Chanysheva, who was arrested in November 2021, stem from a court ruling made earlier that year that designated Navalny's Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his regional offices as extremist organizations. (AP Photo)

TALLINN – A court in Russia on Wednesday convicted an associate of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny on extremism charges and sentenced her to 7 1/2 years in prison, the latest step in a yearslong crackdown by the Kremlin on opposition activists.

Lilia Chanysheva, who used to head Navalny’s office in the Russian region of Bashkortostan, was found guilty of calling for extremism, forming an extremist group and founding an organization that violates rights. The charges against Chanysheva, who was arrested in November 2021, stem from a court ruling earlier that year that designated Navalny's Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his regional offices as extremist organizations.

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In addition to the prison sentence, Chanysheva was fined 400,000 rubles (about $4,700). Her trial was conducted behind closed doors and she has maintained her innocence, rejecting the charges as politically motivated.

Navalny himself is facing a new trial on extremism charges that could keep him in prison for decades. It is due to begin next week at a maximum-security prison 250 kilometers (150 miles) east of Moscow where the 47-year-old politician is already serving time on two different convictions.

Navalny, who exposed official corruption and organized massive anti-Kremlin protests, was arrested in January 2021 upon returning to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from nerve-agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. He initially received a 2½-year prison sentence for a parole violation. Last year, he was sentenced to a nine-year term on fraud and contempt of court charges.

The new charges against Navalny relate to the activities of his anti-corruption foundation and statements by his top associates. His allies said the charges retroactively criminalize all the activities of Navalny’s foundation since its creation in 2011.

Navalny has called the new extremism charges “absurd” and said they could keep him in prison for another 30 years.

The Kremlin's crackdown against opposition activists, independent journalists and government critics has intensified since it sent troops into Ukraine. Hundreds have faced criminal charges over anti-war protests and remarks, and thousands have been fined or briefly jailed.

On Wednesday, a court in Moscow sentenced a man who threw gasoline bombs at two police vans in the Russian capital last year to six years in prison. Vitaly Koltsov has said he did it to show his “resentment” of a police van “as a symbol of infringement on freedoms.”