Prominent Russian human rights group Memorial is at risk of losing legal status

Russia’s Supreme Court began hearing on Thursday a petition to shut down one of the country’s oldest and most prominent human rights groups, a move that has angered public opinion and is part of a months-long campaign against activists, independent media and opposition supporters.

After several hours of the hearing, the court decided to postpone until December 14.

The attorney general’s office earlier this month petitioned the Supreme Court to revoke the legal status of the Memorial, an international human rights group that stood out for its studies on political repression in the Soviet Union and now includes more than 50 smaller groups in Russia and abroad. .

In 2016, Memorial was declared a “foreign agent” in Russia – a designation that carries more government scrutiny and carries strong connotations of contempt that can tarnish the reputation of the target organization. Prosecutors allege that the group repeatedly violated regulations requiring it to designate itself as a “foreign agent” and attempted to conceal the designation.

Memorial and his supporters emphasized that the accusations were politically motivated.

Estonia’s president tweets concerns on behalf of the leaders of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia :

Government pressure angers public opinion

Alina Kozlova, head of Memorial Archives, told Reuters that the legal action against the group was in retaliation for its relentless efforts to expose the crimes of dictator Joseph Stalin and Soviet repression.

Alexander Korobushkin, who now lives in Montreal, took refuge in Memorial to conduct research on his ancestors. One was a pilot who was posthumously acquitted after being accused of espionage and killed, and the other was a military officer who was captured and sent to the Gulag camp under Stalin in 1950 for 10 years.

“If the Memorial is closed and no one remembers it [repression]How will the next generation live without this memory? “

Memorial’s president, Oleg Orlov, said Thursday that the group will appeal the ruling, if a court decides to close it, and will continue to operate.

“We will appeal to the European Court, and we will continue to work one way or another. It may not be within the international memorial that is likely to be liquidated, but we also have the Moscow Monument and many monuments in the regions of Russia – until they are liquidated.”

The pressure on the group sparked a public outcry, with several prominent figures speaking out in support of its support this month. As the hearing on the petition to close the Memorial began on Thursday, large crowds gathered in front of the Supreme Court building to show support for the organization.

The Amnesty International Secretary-General’s tweets on Memorial would be an “irreparable loss”:

At least three people were reportedly arrested – including two older women holding signs that read “Thank you, Memorial, for remembering us” and “You can’t kill people’s memory”.

In recent months, the Russian government has designated a number of independent media, journalists and human rights groups as “foreign agents”, most notably the network linked to currently imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. At least two human rights groups have been dissolved to avoid a tougher crackdown.

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