Russian Court Liquidates Historical Research and Human Rights Group “Memorial”
Vienna, 28 December 2021 / FOREF Europe – The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation has ruled that Memorial, one of Russia’s most revered and respected civil society institutions, must be shut down, allegedly for failing to identify itself as a “foreign agent” on some of its materials, a charge that was disproven during the trial.
According to its website,
“The International Memorial was established in 1992 in Moscow. It was preceded by the Moscow public group “Memorial”, which emerged in 1987 and gave rise to a number of regional organizations and groups. In 1989, they all united into the All-Union Historical and Educational Society “Memorial” (registered in 1990). Academician Andrei Sakharov was one of the organizers and the first honorary chairman of the Memorial Society.”
The group’s original and primary task has been to document, through scrupulous and nonpolitical historical research, the fate of millions of victims of Stalin’s executions, purges, and gulag-incarcerations.
This crude, Bolshevik-style legal action is an attempt by Vladimir Putin’s regime to whitewash the Soviet Union’s crimes as he tries to reconstitute the USSR by military and economic coercion.
It is deeply regrettable that the Russian Federation has become a police state, without meaningful political rights, a state that persecutes dissent and religious minorities and threatens its neighbors—like the USSR.
FOREF expresses its solidarity with the members of Memorial and all Russian citizens who seek freedom, and the truth.
We call upon European governments to take a firm and principled stand against this ruling, and policies that deny Russians their basic freedoms.
THE MOSCOW TIMES
Memorial: NGO That Fought for
Victims of Russian Repression
Memorial, dissolved by Russia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, was the country’s most respected human rights organization whose closure signals the tightening authoritarian tendencies under President Vladimir Putin.
The court ruling against Memorial International, the organization’s central structure, seals a swift judicial process to shut down the group, which emerged as a hopeful symbol during Russia’s chaotic transition to democracy in the early 1990s.
Memorial established itself as a key pillar in civil society by battling to preserve the memory of victims of Communist repressions and campaigning against rights violations linked to Russia’s brutal wars in Chechnya and beyond.
The group maintained a massive archive of Soviet-era crimes and questioned official narratives that glossed over horrors committed under Josef Stalin, but showed concern for contemporary rights abuses too by bringing legal cases against Russian mercenaries in Syria.
Rights activists in December asked Putin to intervene.
But the Russian leader told his human rights council that Memorial had been advocating on behalf of “terrorist and extremist organizations,” clearly signaling his backing for its closure.
Memorial has been compiling a list of political prisoners who include members of banned religious groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Putin’s most prominent critic Alexei Navalny, whose political organizations were shut down this year.
In October, Memorial said the number of political prisoners in Russia had risen to 420 compared to 46 in 2015.
Memorial’s closure comes amid an unprecedented crackdown on critical voices that intensified after authorities jailed Navalny in February. But the enormity of outlawing the country’s most prominent rights group stands out even amid the current clampdown.
“The disappearance of Memorial in Russia will become a symbol of a deep moral fall and the definitive symbolic estrangement of the Russian man from the civilization of the 21st century,” dozens of prominent Russian figures said in an open letter.
“The wounds, which have not healed over the 30 post-Soviet years, are bleeding again.”
Memorial was founded in 1989 in the final years of Communist rule under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Its first chairman was the Nobel Prize-winning Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.
The group, which was regularly cited as a potential Nobel Peace Prize winner, had been in the crosshairs of the Russian authorities for years.
The Memorial Human Rights Center was put on the government’s register of “foreign agents” in 2015. Memorial International was added a year later.
The “foreign agents” label, which has dark Soviet-era connotations, requires individuals or groups to disclose sources of funding and mark all publications — including social media posts — with a tag.
Memorial has labeled claims it broke the law or backed terror and extremist groups as “absurd.”
‘Ever more repressive’
Memorial gained prominence for chronicling the victims of Communist repression — a painful subject that modern Russia has been reluctant to address — and investigating executions and kidnappings committed against civilians during Moscow’s two wars to subdue Chechen separatists.
This year Memorial and several other groups released a report on Moscow’s role in the Syria campaign and urged Russians to take responsibility for abuses in the war-torn country.
But Memorial’s crusading work has come at huge personal cost to those involved.
Natalya Estemirova, one of the group’s main employees in Chechnya who gained worldwide renown, was found dead in 2009 with gunshot wounds hours after she was seen being bundled into a car outside her home.
Another Memorial employee, Yury Dmitriyev, who spent decades locating mass graves in the northwestern region of Karelia, was jailed in 2020 on a controversial child sex charge.
Supporters insist the 65-year-old historian was targeted for his work.
On Monday, a Russian court handed him an additional two years in prison.
Irina Shcherbakova, a senior member of Memorial, said the Kremlin was sending a clear signal to the West by banning the group.
“We are doing whatever we feel like with civil society. We will put whoever we want behind bars. We will close down whoever we want,” she said.
“The dictatorship is becoming ever more repressive.”
Russia: Closure of International Memorial is an insult to victims of the Russian Gulag
Reacting to the news that the Russian Supreme Court today ordered the closure of civil society organization International Memorial for allegedly violating “foreign agent” legislation, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, said:
“International Memorial is a highly respected human rights organization that has worked tirelessly to document the atrocities and political repression carried out under the rule of Joseph Stalin and other Soviet leaders. By closing down the organization, Russian authorities trample on the memory of millions of victims lost to the Gulag.
“The closure of International Memorial represents a direct assault on the rights to freedom of expression and association. The authorities’ use of the ‘foreign agents’ law to dissolve the organization is a blatant attack on civil society that seeks to blur the national memory of state repression. The decision to shut down International Memorial is a grave insult to victims of the Russian Gulag and must be immediately overturned.”
Founded in 1989, International Memorial is one of Russia’s most respected civil society organizations.
The prosecutors claimed that International Memorial repeatedly violated the “foreign agents” law by refusing to label their content as produced by a “foreign agent” or adding lengthy disclaimers stating the same.
A request to liquidate Human Rights Center Memorial, International Memorial’s sister organization, was also submitted to the Russian Supreme Court on the same day. The court is due to make a decision on this request in the coming days.