Russian Court Bans Major Human Rights Organizations

The New York Times reports:

A Moscow court ordered the closure of one of the country’s most prominent human rights groups on Wednesday, a day after its parent organization was also shut down in verdicts that, for many Russians, served as a painful coda to a year marked by the erosion of civil rights and media freedoms.

Moscow’s City Court ruled that the Memorial Human Rights Center must close, a day after the country’s Supreme Court ordered the shuttering of its parent organization, Memorial International, which was founded in 1989 by Soviet dissidents to preserve memories of Soviet repression.

Together, the shutdowns reflected President Vladimir V. Putin’s longstanding determination to control the narrative of some of the most painful and repressive chapters in Russian history.

ABC News reports:

Russian authorities previously declared both organizations as “foreign agents” — a designation that brings additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations. Prosecutors petitioned to shut down the groups last month, arguing they had repeatedly violated regulations obliging them to identify themselves as foreign agents in all content they produce. Memorial and the Memorial Human Rights Center rejected the accusations as politically motivated.

“We’ve been saying from the start that the ‘foreign agents’ law — and I’m doing the air quotations again — is not lawful, and it’s not to be amended but only abolished because it was designed with the aim of strangling civil society. Today, we received another proof of that,” Alexander Cherkasov, board chairman of the Memorial Human Rights Center, said Wednesday.

The BBC reports:

There were shouts of “shame!” from those in court as the decision was read out. The ruling also shines a light on the rise in repression in modern-day Russia, where Memorial’s own human rights wing now lists more than 400 political prisoners, and independent groups and media are increasingly blacklisted as “foreign agents”.

In court, lawyers for Memorial argued that the group’s work was beneficial for the “health of the nation”. They declared Memorial a friend of Russia, not its enemy, and called the case for liquidation absurd and “Orwellian”.

Among the sites the group failed to mark with its “foreign agent” status was the vast database of victims of political repression that it has assembled over three decades of work.

The Guardian reports:

The Russian prosecutor portrayed the organisation as a geopolitical weapon used by foreign governments to deprive modern Russians of taking pride in the achievements of the Soviet Union. Those arguments dovetail closely with the Kremlin’s use of Soviet history as a rallying point for society and reinterpretation of key historical moments in its confrontations with European countries.

“It is obvious that, by cashing in on the subject of political reprisals of the 20th century, Memorial is mendaciously portraying the USSR as a terrorist state and whitewashing and vindicating Nazi criminals having the blood of Soviet citizens on their hands,” said Alexei Zhafyarov, a representative of the Russian prosecutor general’s office, during the hearing.

The Moscow Times reports:

Diplomats from Spain, Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the United States and Germany were present at Wednesday’s court hearing, according to the state-run TASS news agency. Memorial’s defense team plans to appeal the ruling to liquidate its human rights center, TASS quoted lawyer Maria Eismont as saying.

Memorial was founded by a group of former Soviet dissidents in 1989, during Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms, to facilitate discussion of Soviet-era political repression and purges. At the time, it was seen as a sign of the U.S.S.R’s re-examination of painful chapters in its past.

But in recent years, the organization has fallen afoul of a Kremlin that has preferred to stress wartime heroism the achievements of the Soviet years, rather than dwell on repressions.

Deutsche Welle reports:

Pavel Andreyev, one of the directors of International Memorial, said Russia was cracking down on human rights organizations as part of an attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to consolidate his power.

“Putin is more than 20 years in power and they are now preparing [for him to continue his rule],” he told DW. “That’s why they are cracking down on all these independent organizations.”

He explained that Memorial collected contemporary evidence of human rights abuses as well as historical, possibly appearing as a threat to Putin. “Memorial isn’t only a historical society, and we not only work with Stalin’s repressions, but also, the biggest part of Memorial’s work is human rights in modern Russia,” he said.