Russian court shuts down prominent rights group | News, Sports, Jobs

Police officers arrest a protester as people rally outside the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation in Moscow, Russia on Tuesday, December 28, 2021. The Russian Supreme Court ruled that one of the rights organizations oldest and most important humans in the country should be shut down. The move is the latest step in a months-long crackdown on dissent. 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 prominence for its studies of political repression in the Soviet Union. . (AP Photo)

MOSCOW (AP) – Russia’s highest court on Tuesday shut down one of the country’s oldest and largest human rights organizations, the latest step in a relentless crackdown on rights activists, media independents and opposition supporters.

The Supreme Court ruling revoked the legal status of Memorial, an international human rights group that has received international acclaim for its studies of political repression in the Soviet Union.

Memorial is made up of more than 50 small groups in Russia and abroad. She was declared a “foreign agent” in 2016 – a label that involves additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative overtones that may discredit the targeted organization. Prosecutors said the group repeatedly failed to identify themselves as a foreign agent and tried to cover up the designation.

Memorial dismissed the charges as politically motivated and vowed to continue his work.

“Of course, nothing is finished with this,” said Maria Eismont, one of the lawyers who represented the group in court, after the ruling. “We will appeal, and Memorial will live with the people – because these are the people behind who serve this great cause first and foremost. The work will continue. “

During the hearing, prosecutors said Memorial “creates a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state, laundered and rehabilitates Nazi criminals” – charges Memorial dismissed.

The pressure on the group sparked public outrage, with many prominent public figures speaking out in support. A crowd that gathered outside the courthouse on Tuesday erupted into chants of “Disgrace! in response to the decision. Police arrested several people for picketing outside the courthouse.

Amnesty International described the Memorial closure as “a blatant attack on civil society that seeks to blur the national memory of state repression”. “The decision to close the International Memorial is a grave insult to the victims of the Russian gulag and must be immediately reversed,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, in a statement.

Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić said the move was “devastating news for civil society” in Russia and said the country “appears to be moving further away from our common European standards and values. “.

“We continue to offer our assistance and expertise, but today marks a dark day for civil society in the Russian Federation,” she said in a statement.

US Ambassador John Sullivan lamented the court’s verdict as “a blatant and tragic attempt to suppress free speech and erase history.”

Memorial’s sister organization, the Memorial Human Rights Center, is also due to be shut down, with a hearing Wednesday morning at the Moscow City Court.

In recent months, Russian authorities have stepped up pressure on rights groups, the media and individual journalists, appointing dozens of foreign agents. Some have been declared “undesirable” – a label that bans organizations in Russia – or accused of links to “undesirable” groups. Several have been forced to close or dissolve to avoid further prosecutions.

Authorities on Saturday blocked the website of OVD-Info – a leading legal aid group that focuses on political arrests – and urged social media platforms to delete its accounts after a court ruled that the website contained materials that “justified the actions of extremists and terrorists.” groups. ”The group dismissed the accusations as politically motivated.

OVD-Info condemned the decision to close Memorial.

“Memorial is an institution of national memory on the era of the Great Terror and the Soviet repressions,” the group said in a statement.

“To close such an institution is to publicly justify (Soviet leader Josef) Stalin,” he said. “This is a clear signal both to society and to the elites: ‘Yes, repressions were necessary and useful to the Soviet state in the past, and we also need them today. “

On Tuesday, five allies of the imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny were taken into custody. Earlier this year, a Moscow court banned Navalny’s organizations – the Anti-Corruption Foundation and its nationwide network of regional offices – as extremists, exposing their staff and supporters to prosecution.

One of the five activists detained, Ksenia Fadeyeva, is reportedly accused of having formed an extremist group. Fadeyeva headed the Navalny regional office in the Siberian city of Tomsk, and in last year’s elections she won a seat in the city’s Legislative Assembly.

Another Navalny ally, Lilia Chanysheva, was arrested and jailed in November on similar charges. She ran Navalny’s office in the Russian region of Bashkortostan and faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.

Navalny himself is serving 2.5 years in prison for violating his probation terms following a 2014 embezzlement conviction that is widely seen as politically motivated. The politician was arrested in January on his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from nerve poisoning he attributes to the Kremlin – charges Russian officials dismiss.

Most of its main allies have been prosecuted this year on various criminal charges and have left Russia.

Also on Tuesday, another prominent human rights organization – the Civic Assistance Committee which helps refugees and migrants in Russia – said authorities were expelling him from an office in Moscow he had been. allowed to occupy free of charge for years.

Moscow city officials handed the group a document canceling the agreement allowing the use of the space without compensation and ordered it to leave within a month.

“I associate it with the general tendency to destroy civil society in Russia,” Civic Assistance Committee chair Svetlana Gannushkina told Mediazona.


Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.


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Clifton L. Boyd