Alexei Navalny says he was given no reason for being barred from boarding a flight from Moscow to Frankfurt. He intended to appear at the ECHR, which is ruling on the legality of his numerous detentions.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Tuesday said that he had been prohibited from boarding a flight from Moscow's Domodedovo airport to Frankfurt that morning. Navalny planned to continue on to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. The ECHR is expected to hand down a ruling on the legality of Navalny's numerous detentions in his home country and whether these were politically motivated.
Navalny took to Twitter to report the incident early Tuesday, writing: "Border guards are saying that I'm not allowed to leave Russia. There is some kind of letter that says I am prohibited from leaving, but there is no explanation why." The opposition politician says he was told his passport was confiscated for "special screening." Authorities say a court bailiff's ruling bars him from leaving. According to the Federal Bailiff's Service, Navalny owes 2.1 million rubles (over €27,000 / $30,370) in the Kirov Oblast, a sum that means he is barred from leaving the country.
Opposition politician Vladimir Milov, who works closely with Navalny and his Anti-corruption Foundation, has called the move to bar the politician from leaving Russia "an absolute disgrace" but says that "[Navalny] was mentally prepared for this to happen." Milov told DW that Navalny has now paid the debt and will be pushing to leave the country in time for the ECHR ruling on Thursday.
Milov also insists the "story about the debt was absolutely made up" and is instead a political move by the Kremlin. According to the politician, Navalny didn't receive an official warning about the debt — and would have legally had at least one more day to pay it off before he could be barred from travelling. "It seems this was a punishment that lay dormant. [The Kremlin was] saving it especially for a case like this," he says. "They don't like the fact that [Navalny] often goes and speaks at the European Parliament and elsewhere — and strongly criticizes the Russian regime. So I think this is an outright move to stop that kind of activity."
Navalny wrote that he was planning to attend the ECHR hearing ahead of its Thursday ruling. Should the court find Navalny's detentions were politically motivated, it would pose a potentially embarrassing situation for the Kremlin.
The 42-year-old has harangued Russian leaders, especially President Vladimir Putin, with accusations of corruption and abuse of power. For example, an investigation into Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's luxury lifestyle carried out by Navalny's Anti-corruption Foundation went viral on YouTube last year.
A victim of political persecution
Navalny, who has been arrested for a number of crimes, including organizing and participating in political demonstrations, was most recently barred from running against Putin in Russian presidential elections in March due to a prior conviction. Navalny has claimed that conviction, too, was politically motivated and had no legal justification.
International observers, such as the rights group Amnesty International, have long argued that Navalny is the victim of political persecution and that he is not a criminal. Famed for his staunch anti-corruption activities, political rallies and effective social media presence, Navalny appeals to many younger Russians, who make up a large chunk of his following. The Kremlin has repeatedly warned young people about being taken in by Navalny and has also arrested a large number of youths attending his rallies.
To fellow opposition politician Milov, barring Navalny from leaving the country was not the right move from the authorities, however. "It's only for Putin and his cronies that an inability to leave Russia is a punishment," the politician told DW. The Russian opposition "love[s] Russia, we operate here and we are committed to continuing to do so," he says. "So it is not a major disruption but it is sad that the constitutional rights of a Russian citizen are being violated again and again at will, simply for political purposes and outside of any legal framework."
js/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)
DW's Emily Sherwin contributed to this report from Moscow.