Russian police raided dozens of regional offices of top protest leader Alexei Navalny on Thursday as well as the homes of his supporters after mass opposition rallies this summer.
The large-scale raids follow local elections on Sunday in which allies of President Vladimir Putin suffered major losses in Moscow after Navalny instructed supporters to vote strategically to push them out.
Leonid Volkov, a close aide of Navalny, said police searches were underway at more than 150 addresses in 39 cities.
“This is not only offices and apartments of coordinators but also the homes of employees and volunteers,” Volkov said on Twitter.
Law enforcement agencies have not yet made any official comment on the raids.
Volkov linked the raids to Navalny’s “smart voting” campaign, saying it had shown results across the country and proved “we are a political force.”
Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh accused authorities of trying to deal a “massive blow” to the organisation.
“These raids are an act of intimidation,” she said.
“The police’s only goal is to confiscate our material and paralyse our work,” she said, adding: “We won’t stop.”
Police targeted activists across the country from Russia’s westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad to the far eastern city of Vladivostok, Volkov said.
In the city of Yekaterinburg in the Urals region, officers wearing scarfs over their faces and black uniforms without identifying marks prevented anyone from entering the office, local media reported.
The office in the city of Perm, also in the Urals, reported that operatives climbed through the windows and then pulled the front door down.
‘Witnesses in the probe’
The raids came after Russian investigators in August launched a money laundering probe against Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund (FBK), which has worked to expose officials’ questionable wealth.
The raids targeted FBK premises and also Navalny’s regional campaign headquarters.
Volkov said that all those targeted by raids were being called in for questioning as “witnesses” in the money-laundering probe into the FBK.
Navalny and his supporters organised a wave of protests after popular opposition politicians were barred from standing in the Moscow parliament election, prompting a police crackdown.
The 43-year-old charismatic opposition leader missed several of the rallies while serving a 30-day jail term for organising previous unauthorised protests.
Since emerging as the Kremlin’s chief critic and a highly effective campaigner and organiser, Navalny has faced a slew of legal action apparently aimed at hindering his activities.
“The only way the police state could respond to the mass rallies was with mass raids,” a lawyer for Navalny’s FBK, Alexander Golovach, wrote on Twitter.