Russia demands closure of leading human rights group Memorial

Russia is moving to shut down Memorial, the country’s most prominent human rights group, in the latest legal effort to silence voices critical of President Vladimir Putin.

Memorial, born out of the “glasnost” reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s, said in a statement late on Thursday that it had been notified by Russia’s supreme court that prosecutors had filed a demand to dissolve the group over alleged breaches of the controversial “foreign agents” act.

The group has become one of Russia’s leading voices in defence of basic freedoms.

Memorial said there was “no legal basis” for the case, saying it had been accused of failing to identify itself publicly as a designated foreign agent.

“This is a political decision aimed at destroying the Memorial Society, an organisation dedicated to the history of political repression and the protection of human rights.

“We have repeatedly stated that the law was originally conceived as a tool to crack down on independent organisations, and insisted that it should be abolished,” Memorial said in a statement.

Focused in its early days on the crimes of the Stalinist era, Memorial has spoken out more recently against the crackdown on opposition figures, activists, journalists and others under Putin.

In a post on its website two days ago, it said it had documented a rise in the number of political prisoners in Russia to 420, up from 362 a year ago, but said the actual number was undoubtedly far higher.

“We’re in shock. On the other hand, this isn’t surprising … In recent years such wild things have been happening in Russia that this doesn’t really elicit amazement,” Oleg Orlov, a Memorial board member, told Reuters news agency.

“This is obviously a political decision that has come down from somewhere above to liquidate us. And this is a blow to all of civil society and a really serious alarm bell for it.”

As far back as 2015, Memorial was placed on an official list of “foreign agents”, a label that carries connotations of spying. Its offices across the country have been attacked on numerous occasions.

The Kremlin says the foreign agent law is justified on the grounds that Russians have the right to know when NGOs, media outlets and others are receiving foreign funding to engage in what it considers political activity.

Earlier this week, Moscow declared the country’s main group defending LGBTQ rights a foreign agent, as well as several lawyers close to the Russian opposition.

Putin himself said that the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Russian newspaper editor Dmitry Muratov would not “shield” him from being branded a foreign agent if he breaks the law.

Memorial says the case against it will be heard on November 25.

RIA news agency quoted the prosecutor’s office as saying that investigations had uncovered legal violations by Memorial’s international and regional arms, and applications had been made to the Supreme Court and Moscow city court to close them. It did not specify what the violations were.

“Liquidating us won’t mean that everything will stop,” Orlov said. “We’ll work from our apartments until they jail us all. But of course, our work will really become much, much harder.”

Related Articles

Back to top button