Russia moves to shut down country’s most celebrated civil rights group | Russia

Russian authorities have threatened to shutter Memorial, the country’s oldest civil rights group, in a move that the celebrated NGO has called politically motivated.

Prosecutors have filed a lawsuit to liquidate the human rights organisation for alleged violations of Russia’s “foreign agents” act. If successful, the NGO’s closure would be a watershed moment in the Kremlin’s assault on independent thought in Russia.

Established in the late 1980s, Memorial has documented political repression under the Soviet Union, building a database of the victims of the Great Terror and gulag camps. It has also become an outspoken advocate for the cause of civil rights in modern Russia. Its founders include the famed dissident Andrei Sakharov.

On Thursday, Memorial said it had received a court summons indicating that prosecutors sought to liquidate the organisation under the “foreign agents” act.

“We believe that there are no legal grounds for the Memorial to be dismantled,” the International Memorial Board wrote in a statement. “This is a political decision aimed at exterminating the Memorial Society, the organisation dealing with the history of political repression and human rights defence.”

Memorial was one of the first organisations named to Russia’s list of “foreign agents” in 2014. Since then, it has been fined at least 21 times for alleged violations of the “foreign agents” law and in 2020 said the sums had reached more than 4.2m roubles (£44,000). Its premises have also been targeted in graffiti attacks and police raids.

Memorial has campaigned against the “foreign agents” law, saying it had “been introduced with the view to eradicating independent organisations”. Russian prosecutors had previously threatened to close the organisation in 2014. The Ministry of Justice reportedly liquidated a Memorial affiliate in Russia’s northern Komi region in 2019.

In the last year, the organisation recognised supporters of Alexei Navalny as political prisoners and said that the growing crackdown on opposition resembled the Soviet era.

The court hearing is set for 25 November.

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