Alexei Navalny has been repeatedly arrested and detained in the past [File: Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters]
Russian authorities have opened a criminal case against opposition leader Alexei Navalny, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, for allegedly slandering a veteran of World War II.
The Investigative Committee, which handles probes into major crimes, announced the case on Monday accusing Navalny of criticising the 93-year-old veteran who featured in a video with other prominent Russians to express support for constitutional reforms set to be put to a national vote.
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The July 1 referendum would allow Putin, 67, to run for president again when his fourth term expires in 2024, and potentially to stay in power until 2036.
The vote on the reforms, which critics labelled as a constitutional coup, was set for April 22 but was postponed as the country had to deal with a surging number of coronavirus infections.
In a social media post on June 2, Navalny described the people in the video backing the reforms as traitors with no conscience and corrupt lackeys.
The committee said the comments were "false information discrediting the honour and dignity of a veteran of the Great Patriotic War".
Navalny, who has been repeatedly arrested for planning unauthorised demonstrations, now risks penalties which range from a fine of one million roubles ($14,255) to 240 hours of community service.
There was no immediate comment by his spokesperson.
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 by a landslide.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies