memorial:  Russian court orders rights group Memorial to close – Times of India

memorial: Russian court orders rights group Memorial to close – Times of India


MOSCOW: Russia’s Supreme Court ordered Tuesday the closure of Memorial, the country’s most prominent rights group that symbolised post-Soviet democratisation and chronicled Stalin-era purges for the past three decades.
The court ruling against Memorial International, the group’s central structure, caps a year that began with the jailing of President Vladimir Putin’s top critic Alexei 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.
Judge Alla Nazarova ordered the closure of Memorial International and its regional branches after prosecutors accused the organisation of failing to mark its publications with a label of “foreign agent”, the tag for groups that receive funds from overseas.
“Disgrace! Disgrace!” supporters shouted in court after the ruling.
Prosecutors also accused Memorial International of denigrating the memory of the Soviet Union and its victories and rehabilitating “Nazi criminals”.
During Tuesday’s hearing a prosecutor said Memorial “creates a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state and denigrates the memory of World War II”.
The court decision is the hardest blow yet to the organisation founded in 1989 by Soviet dissidents including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov. The ruling came after Putin accused the group of advocating for “terrorist and extremist organisations”.
Lawyer Maria Eismont said the shutdown was a “very bad sign” but added that Memorial would appeal and press ahead with its work.
“This is not the end,” she told reporters.
‘Tragedy for Russia’
Dozens of supporters gathered outside the courthouse in freezing temperatures and several people were detained.
Memorial is a loose structure of locally registered organisations, with Memorial International maintaining the network’s extensive archives in Moscow and coordinating its work.
The group has spent years cataloguing atrocities committed in the Soviet Union, especially in the notorious network of prison camps, the Gulag.
Supporters say its closure signals the end of an era in Russia’s post-Soviet democratisation process, which began 30 years ago this month.
Supporter Maria Biryukova said Russia needed Memorial to make sure past mistakes were not repeated.
“Memorial tells the truth, in no way does it denigrate the country,” she told AFP.
Another supporter, author Leonid Bakhnov, whose grandfather was executed at the peak of Stalin-era purges in 1937, said the group’s closure was “a tragedy for Russia”.
“What a wonderful New Year they arranged for us,” he said bitterly.
Memorial’s founders have denied any serious violations, saying only an insignificant number of documents may have been missing the “foreign agent” tag.
Tuesday’s hearing was one of two cases brought against the group. Prosecutors have also demanded a court close Memorial’s Human Rights Centre, accusing it of condoning “terrorism and extremism” in addition to breaches of the “foreign agent” legislation.
On Wednesday, a Moscow court will hold a new hearing in that case.
Memorial’s Human Rights Centre has campaigned for the rights of political prisoners, migrants and other marginalised groups, and highlighted abuses, especially in the turbulent North Caucasus region that includes Chechnya.
‘Attempt to erase history’
Observers in Russia and abroad condemned the ruling.
Political analyst Anton Orekh said the closure of Memorial was akin to the “public justification of Stalin purges”.
“The consequences for the present and the future of our country will be catastrophic,” he added.
United States ambassador John Sullivan called it “a blatant and tragic attempt to suppress freedom of expression and erase history”,
Referring to the Russian court ruling, Auschwitz Memorial said on Twitter: “A power that is afraid of memory, will never be able to achieve democratic maturity.”
On Monday, a court in the northwestern city of Petrozavodsk increased by two years a 13-year prison sentence for the head of Memorial in Karelia, Yury Dmitriyev, in a sex abuse case. His supporters say he is being punished for his work locating mass graves of people killed under Stalin.
Separately, Navalny’s team said Tuesday the authorities had detained the heads of his now-dismantled offices in the Siberian regions of Irkutsk and Tomsk, Zakhar Sarapulov and Ksenia Fadeyeva who is also a local lawmaker.


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