Russian court shuts down prominent rights group – NBC Boston

Russia’s highest court on Tuesday shut down one of the country’s oldest and largest human rights organizations, the latest step in a relentless crackdown on rights activists, independent media and supporters of the opposition.

The Supreme Court’s decision to shut down Memorial, an international human rights group hailed internationally for its studies of political repression in the Soviet Union, sparked international outrage.

Memorial is made up of more than 50 small groups in Russia and abroad. She was declared a “foreign agent” in 2016 – a label that involves additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative overtones that may discredit the targeted organization. Prosecutors said the group repeatedly failed to identify themselves as a foreign agent and tried to cover up the designation, charges Memorial dismissed.

During the hearing, prosecutors also accused Memorial of “creating a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state“, a claim that the group disclosed the authorities’ true motive.

“The Supreme Court ruling once again confirmed that the history of organized and government-led political terror is not an academic question only of concern to experts, but an acute problem of today. hui, “Memorial said in a statement. “Memorial embodies the need of Russian citizens to know the truth about the country’s tragic path and the plight of millions of people. No one would be able to “liquidate” this need. “

The group said it would appeal the verdict and pledged to continue its work.

“Of course, nothing is finished with this,” said Maria Eismont, one of the lawyers who represented the group in court, after the ruling. “We will appeal, and Memorial will live with the people – because these are the people behind who serve this great cause first and foremost. The work will continue. “

A crowd that gathered outside the courthouse on Tuesday erupted into chants of “Disgrace! in response to the decision. Police arrested several people for picketing outside the courthouse.

Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić called the decision “devastating news” and “a dark day for civil society in the Russian Federation”.

Amnesty International called the closure of Memorial “a blatant attack on civil society seeking to blur the national memory of state repression” and “a grave insult to the victims of the Russian gulag”.

US Ambassador John Sullivan lamented the court’s verdict as “a blatant and tragic attempt to suppress free speech and erase history.”

The French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, expressed “his indignation and his concern” at the closure of the NGO Memorial International, describing it as “a terrible loss for the Russian people”.

“This announcement is deeply worrying for the future of historical research and the defense of human rights in Russia,” he said in a statement.

Memorial’s sister organization, the Memorial Human Rights Center, is also due to be shut down, with a hearing Wednesday morning at the Moscow City Court.

In recent months, Russian authorities have stepped up pressure on rights groups, the media and individual journalists, appointing dozens of foreign agents. Some have been banned as “undesirable” and several have been forced to close or disband to avoid further prosecution.

Authorities on Saturday blocked the website of OVD-Info – a leading legal aid group that focuses on political arrests – and urged social media platforms to delete its accounts after a court ruled that the website contained materials that “justified the actions of extremists and terrorists.” groups. ”The group dismissed the accusations as politically motivated.

OVD-Info condemned the decision to close Memorial.

“The memorial is an institution of national memory about the era of the Great Terror and the Soviet repressions,” the group said in a statement, adding that its closure amounted to an attempt to justify the crackdowns by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. “It is a clear signal both to society and to the elites: ‘Yes, repressions were necessary and useful to the Soviet state in the past, and we need them today too.'”

On Tuesday, five associates of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny were taken into police custody. Earlier this year, a Moscow court banned Navalny’s organizations – the Anti-Corruption Foundation and its nationwide network of regional offices – as extremists, exposing their staff and supporters to prosecution.

One of the five activists detained, Ksenia Fadeyeva, is reportedly accused of having formed an extremist group. Fadeyeva headed the Navalny regional office in the Siberian city of Tomsk, and in last year’s elections she won a seat in the city’s Legislative Assembly.

Another Navalny associate, Lilia Chanysheva, was arrested and jailed in November on similar charges. She ran Navalny’s office in the Russian region of Bashkortostan and faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.

Navalny himself is serving 2.5 years in prison for violating his probation terms following a 2014 embezzlement conviction that is widely seen as politically motivated. The politician was arrested in January on his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from poisoning with a nerve agent which he said was committed by the FSB security agency on the orders of the Kremlin – accusations Russian officials reject.

On Tuesday, Navalny attended a court hearing regarding his appeal against the prison authorities’ decision to place him under special surveillance as a person prone to “extremist and terrorist” activity.

“Why should I sleep under the sign that says I am a terrorist?” He told the judge by video conference from prison. “I did not detonate anyone, I did not take hostages, I did nothing like that and I do not intend to. It was I who was the victim of an attack terrorist when FSB agents tried to kill me.

Most of Navalny’s key associates have been prosecuted this year on various criminal charges and have left Russia.

Also on Tuesday, another prominent human rights organization – the Civic Assistance Committee which helps refugees and migrants in Russia – said authorities were expelling him from an office in Moscow he had been. allowed to occupy free of charge for years.

Moscow city officials handed the group a document canceling the agreement allowing the use of the space without compensation and ordered it to leave within a month.

“I associate it with the general tendency to destroy civil society in Russia,” Civic Assistance Committee chair Svetlana Gannushkina told Mediazona.


Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

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