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Russia Obliges Oldest and Important Human Rights Organization Memorial to Close

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Russia forces the oldest and most important human rights organisation, Memorial, to close down. The decision is based on a controversial law that is more often used to silence civil society organisations. The human rights organisation itself calls the decision “politically motivated”.

 

Memorial is an essential and iconic human rights organisation in Russia, investigating historical abuses by the former Soviet Union. The organisation has been investigating the mass purges in Soviet times for more than thirty years and guards the memory of the victims.

The organisation says it wants to “bring the truth about the victims and support their families”. In addition, she also regularly criticises the Kremlin. It was founded by, among others, Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov.

The Russian Supreme Court has now ordered the shutdown of this organisation, relying on a controversial law to prevent interference by “foreign agents”. The court accused the organisation of repeatedly violating this law because, among other things, it failed to include the mandatory warning “for foreign agents” in all of its publications.

Russia had previously labelled the organisation as a “foreign agent”. Moscow uses that label for organisations that are financed from abroad, and that carry out political activities against the Russian government. Memorial has always refused this label, so the court fined it.

The public prosecutor’s office had already asked for the organisation’s dissolution at the beginning of November. It accused Memorial of “spreading a false image of the Soviet Union as a terrorist state”. Putin has also criticised Memorial, which he says “supports terrorists and extremists”.

“They have decided to ban Memorial International and its regional branches,” the organisation wrote on the Internet. Jan Ratshinski, one of Memorial’s representatives, said they would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Memorial’s lawyer also confirmed the news and said they would appeal the ruling. “The real reason for the closure of Memorial is that the prosecutor’s office does not like Memorial’s work to support the victims of Soviet terror,” it said. Critics also say the closure is “politically motivated”.

The indictment against the organisation has already sparked outrage inside and outside Russia. UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor said earlier this month that dissolution of the Memorial would “mark a new low for human rights defenders in Russia”.

According to a joint statement by several German human rights organisations, the international community is also outraged by the court’s final decision: “This is a serious blow to Russian society”. According to them, this decision exposes how Russia “fights against confronting its own unjust past”.

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