Russia Orders Rights Group Chronicling Repression to Close
(Bloomberg) -- Russia’s Supreme Court ordered the closure of International Memorial, the country’s most prominent human rights group, escalating a sweeping crackdown that has also targeted opposition activists and independent media.
The group founded by Soviet-era dissidents including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov must shut down after failing to identify itself as a “foreign agent” under Russian law, Judge Alla Nazarova said Tuesday.
International Memorial catalogs political repression ranging from the mass purges and Gulag prison system of former Soviet ruler Josef Stalin to the persecution of dissent in contemporary Russia under President Vladimir Putin. It denied major violations of the law and told the court it was willing to correct any infractions in order to continue to operate, while prosecutors had asked for a closure order.
“Shutting International Memorial will throw the country back and increase the risk of total repression,” Maria Eismont, a lawyer for the organization, told the court. “You cannot liquidate Memorial without renouncing what it did and is doing.”
Moscow City Court on Wednesday ordered Memorial’s Human Rights Center to close as well, after prosecutors accused the organization of breaching the “foreign agent” law. The local group was labeled a foreign agent in 2014, followed by International Memorial in 2016.
Memorial will appeal the Moscow court’s ruling, Eismont said Wednesday, according to the state-run Tass news service. European and U.S. diplomats attended the court hearing, Tass reported.
The move to dissolve Memorial came days after Russia marked the 30th anniversary of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union that allowed activists to chronicle the full scale of persecution carried out by the authorities and the security services. Memorial seeks to rehabilitate victims of repression as well as publicize rights violations in modern Russia.
The order comes amid an aggressive Kremlin campaign targeting opposition activists, independent media and rights groups since Putin’s most prominent domestic critic Alexey Navalny was sentenced to prison in February. Many outlets and journalists have been labeled as “foreign agents” under a law that forces them to comply with onerous reporting requirements or face closure.
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