Russia to consider shutting down Memorial's rights centre
Moscow (AFP) – A Moscow court on Wednesday hears a case against the rights centre of Memorial group, which chronicled Soviet-era purges, a day after the Supreme Court outlawed the main organisation in a watershed moment in Russia's history.
The ruling against Memorial International on Tuesday sparked an international outcry, with the United States, France and the Council of Europe condemning its closure.
Founded in 1989 by Soviet dissidents including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, Memorial is Russia's most prominent rights organisation. It has chronicled Stalin-era purges and also campaigned for the rights of political prisoners and other marginalised groups.
On Tuesday, Russia's Supreme Court ordered the closure of Memorial International, which maintains the network's extensive archives in Moscow and coordinates the work of regional offices.
The shutdown came after prosecutors accused Memorial of failing to mark all of its publications with a label of "foreign agent", the tag for organisations that receive funds from overseas. The prosecution also said Memorial "creates a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state and denigrates the memory of World War II".
In a separate case, prosecutors have also asked to dissolve Memorial's Human Rights Centre for the failure to use the "foreign agent" label on its publications and for allegedly justifying terrorism and extremism.
Wednesday sees the Moscow City Court hold a new hearing in that case.
The trials signal the end of an era in Russia's post-Soviet democratisation process, which began 30 years ago this month.
- 'Awful mirror' -
A Memorial lawyer, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, said they did not doubt that the court would on Wednesday rule to shut down Memorial's Human Rights Centre as well.
"It's obvious," the lawyer told AFP.
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said he also feared that the centre would be shut down.
"It is an utter outrage that the Kremlin is now moving to shut Memorial down," he said in a video statement.
"It speaks to the fears of the Russian government that it is no longer willing to tolerate the honest and objective accounting of its conduct that Memorial provides," he added.
"If that mirror is too awful to look at, the answer is to change the conduct, not to shatter the mirror."
In a statement Tuesday evening, Memorial International vowed to appeal and find "legal ways" to continue its work.
"Memorial is not an organisation, it is not even a social movement," the statement said.
"Memorial is the need of the citizens of Russia to know the truth about its tragic past, about the fate of many millions of people."
Memorial's rights centre has campaigned for the rights of political prisoners, migrants and other disadvantaged groups, and highlighted abuses, especially in the turbulent North Caucasus region that includes Chechnya.
The centre has also compiled a list of political prisoners that includes President Vladimir Putin's top domestic critic Alexei Navalny and members of regional minorities outlawed in Russia including the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Putin has, however, criticised its work, accusing the group of advocating for "terrorist and extremist organisations".
The trials cap a year that began with the jailing of Navalny and saw a historic crackdown on rights groups and independent media.
But the ban against Memorial stands out even in the current climate and would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.
Auschwitz Memorial said on Twitter: "A power that is afraid of memory will never be able to achieve democratic maturity."
© 2021 AFP