Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law Friday banning individuals designated as “extremists” from running for public offices, a move condemned by the opposition as an effort to further limit political competition.
The new legislation was signed and posted on a government website on Friday, the day which also marks the birthday of jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny.
The law prevents members of “extremist” or “terrorist” organizations from standing in elections for a period of three to five years, depending on the person’s position. Founders and leaders of designated groups will not be able to run for elected office for five years after a court’s decision to ban the group. Employees or financial supporters of court-ruled extremist and terrorist organizations will be banned from running for office for three years.
Navalny was imprisoned earlier this year by a Moscow court for allegedly violating the probation terms of a 2014 case in which he received a suspended sentence of three and a half years. Navalny’s chief of staff Leonid Volkov tweeted on Friday he didn’t believe Putin “accidentally” signed the law today.
The new legislation comes ahead of a court decision on whether to designate both Navalny’s political and anti-corruption organizations as extremist groups following a lawsuit filed in April by the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office.
If approved, the move by prosecutors could have serious consequences for Navalny’s team, already under serious pressure from police raids and arrests. Russia already has sweeping anti-extremism laws on the books that critics say effectively curtail freedom of speech and rights to public assembly.
Tatiana Stanovaya, political analyst of Carnegie Moscow and founder of R.Politik told CNN the law threatens not only opposition politicians but ordinary Russian citizens.
“The law is part of a larger campaign against anti-regime behavior in Russia,” she said. “The battlefield has become much larger, now even a Russian citizen who participates in protests, retweets an opposition post or donates to opposition groups, face the risk of prosecution.”
The new legislation signed by Putin means Navalny supporters face the possibility of being barred from running in Russia’s upcoming parliamentary elections in September.
Navalny was already barred from running in Russia’s last presidential election in 2018 because of his conviction. Russia’s next presidential election is scheduled for 2024.
While Putin was originally set to step down at that time because of term limits, last year’s constitutional reform has effectively reset the clock for him, allowing him to seek two more six-year terms when his presidency ends. He has already hinted he is planning to run again.