Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's website blocked by regulator before election


FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder and to protest against proposed amendments to the country's constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian authorities blocked access to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's website on Monday in the run-up to a parliamentary election, their latest attempt to sideline his allies cast by the Kremlin as U.S.-backed trouble-makers.

The move, the latest chapter in a long-running crackdown on President Vladimir Putin's most prominent domestic opponent, also blocked the websites inside Russia of 48 other individuals and organisations affiliated with Navalny.

Russian Internet regulator Roskomnadzor said in a statement to Reuters it had acted to block navalny.com -- one of the Navalny's movement's main websites -- and the others at the request of the prosecutor general.

A Russian court last month ruled that organisations linked to Navalny were "extremist" based on allegations from Moscow's top prosecutor who said they were trying to foment a revolution by seeking to destabilise the socio-political situation inside Russia, a charge they denied.

The ruling in effect outlawed them and prevented Navalny's allies from taking part in September's election to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Roskomnadzor said the sites it had blocked had been helping the movements covered by the court ban to distribute propaganda and continue illegal activities.

Condemning the move, Navalny's team said on social media it expected the authorities would soon target its so-called smart voting website, which advises peoples how to vote tactically in September to try to unseat candidates from the ruling United Russia party.

It also said its resources on YouTube, where it posts investigations into alleged corruption among Russia's ruling elite, were under pressure.

'PURGE' FROM THE INTERNET

Google did not immediately respond when asked if Roskomnadzor had asked it to remove Navalny-related material and how it might deal with such a request. Google Inc.'s Alphabet owns YouTube.

Maria Pevchikh, who has worked on some of Navalny's most high-profile investigations, said that the move by the Russian authorities had targeted the sites of individual Navalny allies, those of now defunct campaign headquarters, as well as sites designed to expose corruption in sectors like road building.

"They have blocked all sites linked to us," Pevchikh wrote on Twitter. "They have simply decided to purge us from the Russian Internet."

Navalny allies highlighted which of their websites still functioned and urged people to download their smart voting application.

Navalny, Putin's most prominent domestic critic, is serving a 2-1/2 year jail sentence for parole violations that he says were trumped up. His jailing has increased strains in Russia's relations with the West, which has called for him to be freed.

The United States and Britain have condemned the measures against Navalny's allies as an unfounded blow to the Russian political opposition.

(Additional reporting by Maxim Rodionov and Alexander Marrow, Writing by Olzhas Auyezov/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Jon Boyle, Peter Graff and Timothy Heritage)

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