Kremlin: Navalny boycott calls likely illegal
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday said authorities need to determine whether Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's call to boycott next year's presidential election are illegal.
"Calls for boycott ought to be carefully studied to see if they are breaking the law," said Peskov, a day after the country's top electoral body voted to formally ban Navalny from running in the 2018 presidential election.
Read more: Alexei Navalny: Russia's barred presidential candidate
On Monday, Navalny called on his supporters to boycott the presidential election, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin "is terribly scared and is afraid of running against me." Earlier this month, Putin announced his decision to run for office again.
Although Russian law does not specifically outlaw calls for an election boycott, authorities last year blocked access across the country to websites urging such action.
The European Union on Tuesday said it had concerns about the fairness of elections in Russia.
"The Russian Central Electoral Commission's decision ... casts a serious doubt on political pluralism in Russia and the prospect of democratic elections next year," an EU spokesperson said.
"Politically-motivated charges should not be used against political participation. We expect the Russian authorities to ensure that there is a level playing field, including in the presidential elections."
'Harassment and intimidation'
Human rights groups have warned of growing repression of dissent in Russia ahead of the presidential election slated for March 2018.
Hugh Williamson, who heads the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch said authorities need to end their interventions into Navalny and other opposition candidates' campaigns.
Read more: Why Russia thinks spinners are the tools of the opposition
"The pattern of harassment and intimidation against Navalny's campaign is undeniable," Williamson said. "Russian authorities should let Navalny's campaigners work without undue interference and properly investigate attacks against them by ultra-nationalists and pro-government groups."
Navalny is technically barred from running for president due to criminal convictions, which have been viewed as political retribution for his anti-corruption campaigns. He rose to notoriety in 2009 for investigations into official corruption.
aw, ls/rc (Reuters, AP)