Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Russia orders closure of human rights group, ending year of repression

MOSCOW, December 28. (Reuters) – Russia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the liquidation of the country’s most prominent human rights group for violating a law requiring groups to register as foreign agents, ending a year of crackdowns on Kremlin critics unseen since Soviet times. …

The closure of the Memorial group culminates in a year in which the Kremlin’s top critic was jailed, his political movement was banned, and many of his allies were forced to flee. Moscow says it is simply applying laws to counter extremism and shield the country from foreign influence.

“This is a bad signal, indicating that our society and our country are moving in the wrong direction,” the TASS news agency quoted the Chairman of the Board of the Memorial Jan Rachinsky as saying.

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The closure of the group will increase the risk of “total repression” in Russia, Maria Eismont, one of Memorial’s lawyers, said during closing hearings on Tuesday.

Memorial called the suit politically motivated. Interfax news agency quoted the group’s lawyer as saying it would appeal both in Russia and the European Court of Human Rights.

Founded during the glasnost era of Soviet liberalization by prominent dissidents, including the widow of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, Memorial was originally focused on documenting the crimes of the Stalinist era.

It was the main human rights group in Russia during the two wars in Chechnya in the 1990s and has recently spoken out against reprisals against critics under President Vladimir Putin.

The authorities placed the group on the official list of “foreign agents” in 2015, which resulted in numerous restrictions on its activities.

Last month, prosecutors accused Memorial human rights center in Moscow and its parent organization, Memorial International, of violating the law on foreign agents.

Prosecutors said Memorial International broke the rules by not tagging all of its publications, including social media posts. They accused the Moscow center of conniving at terrorism and extremism.

Speaking at the last hearing on Tuesday, the state prosecutor said Memorial had organized large-scale media campaigns aimed at discrediting the Russian authorities, TASS reported.

The group denies any serious wrongdoing and calls the claims political. He stated that its members will continue their work even if it is disbanded.

Putin, a former spy for the Soviet KGB security service, said this month that Memorial defended organizations that Russia considers extremist and terrorist, and that Nazi collaborators were included in his list of victims of Soviet-era repression.

Leading Putin critic Alexei Navalny was jailed last year on charges he says were trumped up after he returned from Germany for treatment for a poisoning that Western countries describe as a state-sponsored assassination attempt. Navalny’s political network was banned as extremist, and many of his allies were jailed or fled.

Russia defends the independence of its legal system and claims that its laws on extremism and foreign influence are similar to those of other countries. He denies any involvement in the poisoning of Navalny.

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Report by Maria Kiseleva based on script by Olzhas Auezov Edited by David Clarke and Peter Graff

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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