MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian authorities said on Monday they had opened a criminal investigation for suspected slander against Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny for comments he made on social media.
The Investigative Committee, which handles probes into major crimes, accused Navalny of slandering a Russian World War Two veteran who featured in a video clip with other prominent Russians to express support for constitutional reforms set to be put to a national vote on July 1.
The reforms, among other things, would allow Vladimir Putin to run for another two terms in the Kremlin and potentially serve until 2036 instead of stepping down in 2024. Critics say the reforms amount to a constitutional coup.
In a social media post on June 2, Navalny, 44, an outspoken opponent of Putin, described the people in the video backing the reforms as traitors with no conscience and corrupt lackeys.
The Investigative Committee’s statement said Navalny had circulated libellous remarks to a large number of people, for which potential penalties range from a fine of 1 million roubles ($14,255) to 240 hours of community service.
It said the investigation was still under way.
Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Navalny has regularly accused the authorities of using criminal investigations against him and his allies to stifle his activities, something they deny
He was barred from running for president in 2018 because of a conviction on embezzlement charges, which he said had been trumped up. Putin won that election in a landslide.
($1 = 70.1500 roubles)
Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Polina Ivanova; Editing by Kevin Liffey