Russia’s Supreme Court has ordered the closure of the “Memorial”, the country’s most prominent human rights group, which dealt with the Stalin-era purges, symbolizing post-Soviet democratization, Euroactiv reports, according to Portalb.mk.
The verdict against “Memorial” comes a year after Russian authorities arrested President Vladimir Putin’s main critic, Alexei Navalny, in a historic blow to human rights groups and independent media.
Last November, the “Memorial” group said it had been notified by Russia’s Supreme Court that prosecutors had filed a motion to disband the group for systematically violating the “foreign agents” legal provisions.
On Tuesday, Judge Ala Nazarova ordered the closure of the “Memorial” group and its regional branches after prosecutors accused the organization of labelling its publications “foreign agent”, which is for groups receiving foreign funding.
“Shame! Shame!” – shouted the supporters of “Memorial” in the court after the verdict.
Prosecutors also accused “Memorial” of denigrating the Soviet Union and its victories and of rehabilitating “Nazi criminals.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, the prosecutor said “Memorial” “creates a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state and tarnishes memories of World War II.”
The decision is the worst blow ever to an organization founded in 1989 by Soviet dissidents, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov.
The decision came after Putin accused the group of spreading propaganda about “terrorist and extremist organizations”.
On Tuesday night, the “Memorial” group said they would file a complaint and find “legal ways” to continue their work. “Memorial is not an organization, nor is it a social movement,” the statement said.
Remembrance is the need for Russian citizens to know the truth about its tragic past and the fate of millions of people, they said.
The court ruling also provoked an international reaction.
The persecution of the International Center for Human Rights is a reminder that it is an insult to their noble missions and to the cause of human rights everywhere, said US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
The people of Russia – and the memory of the millions who suffered from the repression of the Soviet era – deserve better. The decision, Blinken adds, comes in a year of steadily shrinking space for independent civil society, the media and pro-democracy activists in Russia.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the dissolution of the “Memorial” was a “terrible loss” for Russia, adding that the decision was “deeply disturbing” for the future of historical research and the protection of human rights.
Germany called the ruling “more than incomprehensible” and said it was contrary to international obligations to protect fundamental civil rights.
Marija Pejčinovikj Burikj, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe said the “devastating news” meant that Russia seemed to be “moving away from our common European standards and values”.
The group has been tackling crimes committed in the Soviet Union for years, especially in the infamous network of Gulag prison camps. Supporters say the group’s closure marks the end of an era in Russia’s post-Soviet democratization process that began exactly 30 years ago this month.
“Tragedy for Russia”
Author Leonid Bahnov, whose grandfather was executed at the height of the Stalin-era purge of 1937, called the group’s closure a “tragedy for Russia”. The group’s founders have denied any wrongdoing, saying only a few trivial documents could be labelled “foreign agents”.
Tuesday’s hearing was one of two cases filed against the group. Prosecutors also demanded that the court close the Memorial Human Rights Center, accusing the group of pardoning “terrorism and extremism” in addition to violating “foreign agents” legislation.
The Memorial Center for Human Rights campaigned for the rights of political prisoners, immigrants and other marginalized groups and highlighted abuses, especially in the troubled North Caucasus region, which includes Chechnya.
Political analyst Anton Orech said the closure of the “Memorial” was similar to “public justification for Stalin’s purges”.
The consequences for the present and the future of our country will be catastrophic, he adds.
Auschwitz Memorial wrote on Twitter: “A force that is afraid of memories will never be able to reach democratic maturity.”
On Monday, a court in the northwestern city of Petrozavodsk increased by two years the 13-year prison sentence for the head of the Karelia “Memorial”, Yuri Dmitriev, in a case of sexual abuse, which his supporters call punishment for his work.