July 17, 2020 / 12:07 PM / 17 days ago

Kremlin critic Navalny barred from leaving Moscow over slander case

FILE PHOTO - Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder and to protest against proposed amendments to the country's constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Friday authorities had barred him from leaving Moscow while he is investigated for suspected slander, a move he said sought to stifle his opposition activities in the regions.

Investigators called in Navalny for questioning on Friday over a criminal case opened last month in which he is accused of slandering a Russian World War Two veteran who cheered on a Kremlin-backed reform package in a promotional video.

Those reforms, now passed, allow Vladimir Putin to run for two more six-year terms in the Kremlin, instead of stepping down in 2024. Navalny described the people in the online video clip as traitors without a conscience and corrupt lackeys.

Navalny has called the slander accusation politically-motivated and said the case seeks to maintain legal pressure on him as a suspended sentence he is serving for a previous conviction comes to an end.

Alexander Golovach, a lawyer who works for Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said police officers had arrived at the group’s premises on Friday to carry out a search. It was not immediately clear what that was connected to.

If found guilty in the slander case, Navalny, 44, faces a fine of up to one million roubles (11,106.77 pounds) or up to 240 hours community service.

The case is being handled by Russia’s Investigative Committee, a federal body that handles probes into major crimes. It did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Navalny described the order not to leave the capital as intended to prevent him touring Russia ahead of regional elections in September, when he plans to urge supporters to vote tactically to undermine the ruling United Russia party.

“Who could doubt this was all thought up to stop me travelling the regions to support the ‘smart voting’ (campaign),” he said.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Peter Graff

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