Three Navalny associates released after interrogation, fate of two others unknown

Three of five associates of imprisoned Russian opponent Aleksei Navalny who were arrested by police in raids across the country on December 28 have been freed.

The five former directors of the headquarters of Navalny’s network of regional campaign groups have been arrested and questioned for possibly abusing their official position in organizing an extremist group, undermining citizens’ rights, or both.

Each charge, if enforced, would carry a prison sentence.

Vadim Ostanin, who headed the office of the Navalny movement in the southern Siberian city of Barnaul, was released on the morning of December 29 after being interrogated, according to OVD-Info, a non-profit organization that monitors police arrests nationwide. His file relating to possible violations on each count remains open, according to OVD-Info.

Vadim Butakov, who headed Navalny’s office in the northwestern city of Arkhangelsk, was would have released on December 28 after being interrogated on possible offenses related to the participation in the activities of an NGO infringing the rights of citizens.

If charged, Butakov faces up to four years in prison.

Andrei Gorodetsky, the regional coordinator in the southwestern Saratov region, was also interrogated and released on December 28. He could face charges related to abusing his official position to create or participate in an extremist group, which is punishable by prison.

The fate of two other people arrested on December 28 for questioning – Zakhar Sarapulov, who headed Navalny’s headquarters in the eastern city of Irkutsk, and Ksenia Fadeyeva, coordinator of the office in the southern Siberian city of Tomsk – not known.

Tomsk’s TV2 news agency reported earlier that Tomsk city council member Fadeyeva was likely to be transferred to Moscow for questioning by the federal investigative committee.

She is reportedly being questioned on suspicion of abusing her official position and violating citizens’ rights.

Sarapulov was questioned for abuse of official position and was reportedly detained for 48 hours.

Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and its political movement were declared extremist organizations by Russian authorities in June and dissolved.

In November, a criminal case was opened against the head of the Ufa regional office of the Navalny team, Lilia Chanysheva, accused of creating and managing an extremist community.

Chanysheva was ordered last week to remain in pretrial detention until April 9, 2022.

Navalny himself has been in prison since February, having been arrested the previous month on his return from Germany to Russia, where he had been treated for near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok-like nerve agent which he says had been ordered by the Russian President. Vladimir Poutine.

The Kremlin has denied any role in the poisoning of Navalny.

Several of the opposition leader and Kremlin critic’s associates have been accused of creating an extremist group. Many of his close associates, including lawyer Lyubov Sobol, fled the country under pressure from the Russian authorities.

With reports from RFE/RL’s Russian Service, Today, TV2, Irkutsk Insider and OVD-Info