Russian authorities have ordered the offices of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny to suspend all activities pending a court ruling on whether to ban them as an extremist group.
The application for an injunction by the Moscow prosecutor’s office was posted on social media by Mr. Navalny’s allies.
Earlier this month, prosecutors petitioned a court to label his Foundation for Fighting Corruption and network of regional offices as extremist groups.
Such a label would outlaw their activities and expose members and supporters to lengthy prison terms, according to human rights advocates.
The prosecutors also asked a Moscow court to restrict the activities of the Foundation for Fighting Corruption by banning it from spreading information in the media, taking part in elections, using banks or organising public events, according to Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer representing Mr. Navalny’s team.
The ruling on the motion is expected later on Monday.
Navalny allies have rejected the accusations and insist they are politically motivated.
Germany swiftly condemned the suspension order, with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert saying that “using the instruments of fighting terror against politically undesirable opinions is in no way compatible with the principles of the rule of law”.
The foundation was opened 10 years ago and has since targeted high-ranking Russian officials with corruption exposes, many in the form of colourful and widely watched YouTube videos.
One of the latest, alleging that a lavish palace on the Black Sea shore was built for President Vladimir Putin through an elaborate corruption scheme, has had 116 million views.
In 2017 Mr Navalny set up a vast network of regional offices in dozens of Russian regions when he was campaigning to run against Mr Putin in the 2018 presidential election.
He was eventually barred from running, but kept the infrastructure in place.
The regional offices began their own investigations of corruption by local officials and recruited activists, some of whom later ran for office. They were also instrumental in organising mass nationwide rallies in Mr Navalny’s support in January and April.
Mr Navalny was arrested in January on his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — accusations that Russian officials reject.
His arrest triggered nationwide protests that proved to be the biggest show of defiance in years, but did not prevent authorities from promptly putting him on trial for violating the terms of a suspended sentence stemming from a 2014 embezzlement conviction widely believed to be politically motivated.
Mr Navalny was ordered to serve two and a half years in prison and was last month transferred to a penal colony east of Moscow, notorious for its harsh conditions.