Russian court orders liquidation of human rights group memorial
MOSCOW – The Russian Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the liquidation of Memorial International, one of the country’s oldest and most revered human rights organizations, which has chronicled political repression and has become a symbol the democratization of the country following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The move comes after a year of extensive crackdown on opposition in Russia and more than three decades after Memorial was founded by a group of Soviet dissidents who believed the country needed to come to terms with its traumatic past to move forward. In particular, the group was dedicated to preserving the memory of the thousands of Russians who died or were persecuted in forced labor camps during the Stalinist era.
Over the past year, the Kremlin has taken aggressive steps to quell dissent in the media, religious groups, social media and especially among activists and political opponents, hundreds of whom have been harassed, imprisoned or forced into exile.
The closure of Memorial is another step in President Vladimir V. Putin’s efforts to rewrite some of the most painful chapters in Russian history and to soften the image of an often brutal regime during Soviet times.
The closure of Memorial represents “another step down,” said Ilya Miklashevsky, 65, whose father and grandfather were imprisoned in the gulag, the infamous labor camps where Russians were forced to go. work in calm conditions. “The country is falling asleep.”
Sergei Mitrokhin, a Russian opposition politician, said Memorial was “the last obstacle on the way to the complete stalinization of society and the state”.
âWhat we have now is still light Stalinism,â he said, speaking on Ekho Moskvy, a radio station. “I’m afraid it will get a lot worse,” Mitrokhin said. âIt is a tragedy for our country.
Memorial International supervises the archives of victims of the Soviet repression. Its database contains more than three million names, just a quarter of all victims, according to the organization’s estimates.
In a separate hearing on Wednesday, the Moscow City Court will rule on the closure of the Memorial Human Rights Center, which lists current political prisoners in Russia. The center is accused of “justifying terrorist activities” by including members of banned religious organizations on this list.
The list includes Aleksei A. Navalny, the jailed Russian opposition leader, who was poisoned in a clandestine operation widely suspected of being organized by Russian special services.
The judge’s ruling cited what he said were repeated violations of the Foreign Agent Law. Adopted in 2012, the measure has been criticized by the country’s opposition as a vehicle intended by the Russian state to quell any dissent in the country. It orders all organizations that receive foreign funding and engage in loosely defined political activity to label themselves as “foreign agents,” a designation that carries the stigma of being in the pay of foreign governments.
Memorial’s attorneys dismissed all charges against the group as unfounded and called its persecution “politically motivated.” They said Memorial has made every effort to comply with the requirements of the Foreign Agents Act.
At the final hearing, as protesters gathered in front of the courthouse, Aleksei Zhafyarov, the prosecutor, said that Memorial “was only speculating on the subject of political repressions”, but that in reality he was trying to present the Soviet Union as “a terrorist state” and aimed to “rehabilitate Nazi criminals”.
Mr Zhafyarov’s statements echoed earlier comments by Mr Putin, who called Memorial “one of the most reputable organizations” in a meeting with his human rights council this month. , but also accused him of glorifying the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
Memorial’s executive director Yelena Zhemkova said errors are possible in her gargantuan task of keeping a register of victims of the crackdown, but they are “always corrected”.
“What Memorial is doing represents 33 years of hard work by many, many people,” Zhemkova told the court. âWe are working for the good of our people and our country. “