Monday, September 25

‘Another foreign agent’: Russian court orders closure of country’s oldest human rights NGO Memorial

Russia’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the country’s oldest and most prominent human rights organization should be shut down, a move that sparked much public outrage and is the latest step in a months-long crackdown on rights activists, independent media. and opposition supporters. .

Last month, the Attorney General’s Office asked the Supreme Court to revoke the legal status of Memorial, an international human rights group that rose to fame for its studies on political repression in the Soviet Union and currently encompasses more than 50 smaller groups in Russia and abroad.

A movement more than a singular organization, Memorial founded 23 branches throughout the former USSR between 1987 and 1990, eventually growing to its current size and boasting more than 60 offices over the course of the past three decades.

Facing a rejection that included raids on its offices and the confiscation of materials, Memorial fought hard to promote the truth about the historical past of totalitarian regimes through school programs, publications and documentaries, and by allowing public access to documentation of the KGB and FSB size.

In 2005, he created a database containing information on more than 1.3 million victims of political repression in the Soviet Union.

Memorial was also one of several NGOs that persuaded the Russian state to institutionalize the remembrance of those considered dissidents of the Soviet regime, prompting the state to declare October 30 as the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Political Repression.

However, the NGO increasingly lost favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin after his controversial re-election for a third term, following constitutional changes, in 2012.

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On Tuesday, the court ruled in favor of the prosecution, who charged at the hearing that the Memorial “creates a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state, whitewashes and rehabilitates Nazi criminals.”

After its Moscow-based Center for Human Rights was first designated as a “foreign agent” in 2014, the same status was granted to the Memorial two years later, a label that carries additional government scrutiny and has strong pejorative overtones. .

In their lawsuit to shut it down, prosecutors alleged that the group repeatedly violated regulations requiring it to identify itself as a foreign agent and tried to conceal the designation.

The purpose of the designation is to limit their access and collaboration with the Russian public, which could fear state repercussions. For the media designated as foreign agents, it carries the consequence of a significant decrease in advertising revenue as companies avoid angering government institutions.

Memorial and his supporters have maintained that the allegations are politically motivated, and the organization’s leaders have vowed to continue their work even if the court closes it.

The pressure on the group has sparked public outrage, with many prominent figures voicing their support this month.

Journalist and 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov, former Soviet leader and other Peace Laureate Mikhail Gorbachev, Moscow’s Helsinki Group and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s widow Natalia Solzhenitsyna criticized the decision.

Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, one of Russia’s leading contemporary writers, announced that she would return the Russian State Award she received in 2004 in protest against the decision.

Several people were reportedly arrested on Tuesday for picketing the courthouse.

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In recent months, the Russian government has designated various independent media, journalists and human rights groups as “foreign agents”. At least two disbanded to avoid a harsher crackdown.

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