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Fri. 8:52 a.m.: Russian authorities detain 3 lawyers for imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny after raids

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, second from left, and his lawyers Alexander Fedulov, left, Olga Mikhailova, right, and Vadim Kobzev, second right, are seen on a TV screen standing among his lawyers, as he appears in a video link provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, during a hearing Aug. 4 in the colony in Melekhovo, Vladimir region, about 260 kilometers (163 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia. Russian authorities today searched the homes of three lawyers representing Navalny, the politician's allies said. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Russian authorities today detained three lawyers representing imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny after searching their homes, the politician’s allies said.

The move was an attempt to “completely isolate Navalny,” his ally Ivan Zhdanov said on social media. Navalny, 47, has been behind bars since January 2021, serving a 19-year prison sentence but has been able to get messages out regularly and keep up with the news.

The raids targeting Vadim Kobzev, Igor Sergunin and Alexei Liptser are part of a criminal case on charges of participating in an extremist group, Zhdanov said. All three were detained after the search, apparently as suspects in the case, Navalny’s team said on Telegram.

Independent Russian media also reported a raid at a law firm that employs another of Navalny’s lawyers, Olga Mikhailova. According to reports, she is currently not in Russia.

Navalny, currently in Penal Colony No. 6 in the Vladimir region east of Moscow, is due to be transferred to a “special security” penal colony, a facility with the highest security level in the Russian penitentiary system, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh told The Associated Press.

“If he won’t have access to lawyers, he will end up in complete isolation, the kind no one can really even imagine,” she said.

If his lawyers end up in jail, Navalny will be deprived not only of legal representation but also of his “only connection” to the world outside of prison, Yarmysh said:

“Letters go through poorly and are being censored,” she said. With Navalny being held in a special punitive facility in the colony, he is not allowed any phone calls and hardly any visits from anyone but his lawyers, she said, “and now it means he will be deprived of this, as well.”

For many political prisoners in Russia, regular visits from lawyers — especially in remote regions — are a lifeline that allows them to keep in touch with loved ones and supporters, as well as reporting and pushing back against abuse by prison officials.

Navalny is President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe, campaigning against official corruption and organizing major anti-Kremlin protests. He 2021 arrest came upon his return to Moscow from Germany where he recuperated from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. He has since been handed three prison terms, most recently on the charges of extremism.

Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and a vast network of regional offices were outlawed that same year as extremist groups, a step that exposed anyone involved with them to prosecution.

Navalny has previously rejected all the charges against him as politically motivated and accused the Kremlin of seeking to keep him behind bars for life.

Kobzev was due in court today, along with Navalny, for a hearing on two lawsuits the opposition leader had filed against the penal colony where he’s being held. Navalny said at the hearing, which was later adjourned until November, that the case against his lawyers is indicative “of the state of rule of law in Russia.”

“Just like in Soviet times, not only political activists are being prosecuted and turned into political prisoners, but their lawyers, too,” he said.

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