Russian court shuts down prominent human rights group

Russia's Supreme Court has ruled that one of the country's oldest and most prominent human rights organisations should be shut down for breaking a law requiring groups to register as foreign agents, capping a year of crackdowns on Kremlin critics unseen since Soviet days.

Key points:

  • A lawyer for Memorial said the group would appeal, both in Russia and Europe
  • Moscow said it was simply enforcing laws to shield the country from foreign influence
  • Memorial was established in the Soviet Union and focused on documenting the crimes of the Stalinist era

The Prosecutor General's Office last month petitioned 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 and currently encompasses more than 50 smaller groups in Russia and abroad.

The court on Tuesday ruled in favour of the prosecution, which charged at the hearing that Memorial "creates a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state".

The shuttering of the group closes a year in which the top Kremlin critic was jailed, his political movement banned and many of his allies forced to flee.

Moscow said it was simply enforcing laws to thwart extremism and shield the country from foreign influence.

"This is a bad signal showing that our society and our country are moving in the wrong direction," the TASS news agency quoted Memorial board chairman Jan Raczynski as saying.

The Interfax news agency quoted a lawyer for Memorial as saying it would appeal, both in Russia and at the European Court of Human Rights.

Established by prominent dissidents in the final years of the Soviet Union, Memorial initially focused on documenting the crimes of the Stalinist era, and has more recently spoken out against the repression of critics under President Vladimir Putin.

Memorial denied any serious violations and called the lawsuits a political decision.(Reuters: Evgenia Novozhenina)

Authorities placed the group on an official list of "foreign agents" in 2015, a move that entailed numerous restrictions on its activities.

Last month, prosecutors accused the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Centre and Memorial International, its parent structure, of violating the foreign agent law, asking the court to shut them down.

Prosecutors said in particular that Memorial International breached the regulations by not marking all its publications, including social media posts, with the label as required by law.

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Speaking at the final hearing, a state prosecutor said Memorial had organised large-scale media campaigns aimed at discrediting the Russian authorities, according to the TASS news agency.

The group has denied any serious violations and called the lawsuits a political decision.

It said its members would continue their work even if it was dissolved.

Mr Putin also said this month that Memorial had defended organisations that Russia considered extremist and terrorist, and its list of victims of political repression had included Nazi collaborators.

Much of Memorial's work has focused on repressions carried out by Soviet state security bodies, including the KGB where Mr Putin once served as a spy abroad.



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