Moscow court orders closure of Memorial human rights center

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A Moscow court hit Russia’s largest rights group Memorial on Wednesday with a second ban in as many days despite an international outcry.

Judge Mikhail Kazakov has ordered the dissolution of the Memorial Human Rights Center, which campaigns against contemporary rights violations in Russia, at the request of prosecutors.

On Tuesday, the country’s Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of Memorial International, the central structure of the group which chronicles the purges of the Stalinist era and keeps the network’s vast archives in Moscow.

The move was criticized by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell, at a time when tensions are already high between Russia and NATO over the Ukraine conflict.

The decisions cap a year that began with the imprisonment of President Vladimir Putin’s main critic, Alexei Navalny, and mark the end of an era in Russia’s post-Soviet democratization process, which began 30 years ago. years this month.

Prosecutors accused Memorial’s rights center of failing to use the label “foreign agent” on its publications, which designates organizations that receive funds from abroad, and of allegedly justifying terrorism and terrorism. extremism.

Several dozen supporters gathered in front of the courthouse in freezing temperatures.

Memorial, Russia’s largest human rights organization, was founded in 1989 by Soviet dissidents, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov.

At Wednesday’s hearing, a prosecutor accused Memorial of “actively supporting” extremist organizations and organizations designated as “foreign agents.”

The prosecutor accused that it was in fact Memorial who violated Russian rights and freedoms and cited an alleged lack of accountability.

Political observers say accusations of extremism and terrorism were used by Russian authorities to punish Putin’s critics.

Ahead of the decision, Alexander Cherkasov, head of Memorial’s rights center, said the shutdown would mean political repression is a reality in the country.

“Over the past three decades, all of our activities have been aimed at protecting Russian citizens and the interests of the Russian state,” he told the court.

“If we are closed on this matter, it will confirm that the persecution of citizens for political reasons is one of the systemic factors in our life.”

“Ugly mirror”

The prosecution added Tuesday that Memorial “creates a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state and denigrates the memory of World War II”.

“It is a real outrage that the Kremlin is now preparing to shut down Memorial,” Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said on Tuesday.

“This reflects the fears of the Russian government that it is no longer willing to tolerate the honest and objective accounting of its conduct provided by Memorial,” he added.

“If that mirror is too horrible to look at, the answer is to change your behavior, not to break the mirror.”

Memorial International is committed to appealing and finding “legal avenues” to continue its work.

“Memorial is not an organization, it is not even a social movement,” he said.

“The memorial is the need of Russian citizens to know the truth about its tragic past, about the fate of several million people.”

Memorial’s rights center campaigned for the rights of political prisoners, migrants and other disadvantaged groups, and highlighted the abuses, especially in the turbulent North Caucasus region which includes Chechnya.

The center also compiled a list of political prisoners that includes Navalny and members of regional minorities banned in Russia, including Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Putin, however, accused the group of advocating for “terrorist and extremist organizations”.

The court ruling against Memorial International sparked an international reaction.

“The Russian people – and the memory of the millions who suffered from the repression of the Soviet era – deserve better,” Blinken said.

Borrell tweeted: “A critical look at their past is essential for the healthy development and advancement of societies. “

“Even by 2021 standards, the closing of Memorial is an extraordinary event. A monstrous event,” Meduza, an independent news site, said in an op-ed.

(AFP)

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