Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared at a court hearing via video link for the first time since ending his hunger strike, as a top ally announced Navalny's anti-corruption network would be forced to close amid an effort by Russian prosecutors to label it as "extremist."
Why it matters: The Kremlin's crackdown on the country's most prominent Putin critic is intensifying.
Driving the news: "I was taken to a bathhouse yesterday ... there was a mirror there. I looked at myself — I am just a horrible skeleton," Navalny said in court, one week after ending a hunger strike that he launched to protest a lack of medical treatment by prison authorities.
- The appeal hearing was related to a defamation sentence he received in January for allegedly insulting a World War II veteran. Navalny is currently jailed for violating his parole while recovering in Germany from an assassination attempt, and has condemned both cases as politically motivated.
- A gaunt-looking Navalny continued to crack jokes in court, as he is known to do, and asked to see his wife, Yulia. "I haven’t weighed this much since the seventh grade," he told her.
- Turning his attention to the judge, Navalny accused the Kremlin of turning "Russians into slaves" and called President Vladimir Putin a "naked king," before having his appeal summarily rejected, according to The Guardian.
The big picture: Hours earlier, a top official with Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation announced that its regional offices would be dismantled, after a petition by prosecutors to label the network as "extremist" raised the possibility of terrorism charges against its members.
- Amnesty International has said that an extremist designation for Navalny's political and anti-corruption groups would represent "one of the most serious blows for the rights to freedom of expression and association in Russia’s post-Soviet history.”
- “The networks of Navalny’s headquarters doesn’t exist anymore, but there are dozens of strong and tough regional politicians, thousands of his supporters, there are strong and independent political organizations which will work on investigations and elections, public campaigns and rallies. You will help them, and they will succeed,” Navalny ally Leonid Volkov wrote on Telegram, per AP.
Meanwhile, state media reported that a new criminal case had been opened against Navalny, Volkov, and Anti-Corruption Foundation director Ivan Zhdanov in connection with the extremist designation.