MOSCOW (AP) — An independent Russian journalist has been charged with funding an extremist organization over donating a small amount of money to a foundation started by imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Russian media reported Monday.
It is the first publicly known criminal prosecution for donating to Navalny’s organizations since they were declared extremist and outlawed last summer — an apparently new tactic that Russian authorities have chosen to deepen their crackdown on dissent.
Radio Liberty cited Andrei Zayakin’s colleagues as saying he was arrested in his Moscow apartment Sunday and brought before a court Monday. If convicted, he faces up to eight years in prison.
According to the Mass Media Defense Center, a rights group that’s helping defend Zayakin, the investigators accuse the journalist of donating 1,000 rubles (about $16) to Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption.
Zayakin, who wrote for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and other publications, spent the night in a police holding cell. On Monday, a court approved investigators’ request to impose a curfew on him between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., bar him from using the internet and phone and from communicating with other people implicated in the case, although it was not immediately clear if there were any.
Russian authorities have increasingly targeted critics and opponents in the last few years, especially after the country began what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine on Feb. 24. Navalny is in prison on a variety of charges that he calls politically motivated and continues to speak out via social media. A Russian court last year branded his Foundation for Fighting Corruption, as well as his network of regional offices, as extremist and banned its work in Russia.
Zayakin, who holds a degree in math and physics, co-founded a widely-known project called Dissernet, which seeks to expose corruption and plagiarism in Russian science by studying doctoral theses — especially those written by government officials.
Also Monday, Russian authorities detained another prominent Kremlin critic, Leonid Gozman, on charges of publicly comparing the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany. Gozman faces a fine or a 15-day administrative arrest.