‘Delete history’: Russia closes top rights group, setting limits on years of repression

  • The Supreme Court closes Russia’s oldest rights group
  • Says he failed to identify himself as a foreign agent
  • Memorial says it will appeal
  • Says that claims of historical truth cannot be erased
  • Says it will continue activities regardless

MOSCOW, December 28 (Reuters) – Russia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the country’s oldest human rights group to be dissolved for violating a law requiring it to act as “a foreign agent” covering a year of repression by Kremlin critics who do not is seen since Soviet times. .

The closure of Memorial International’s bookmarks a year in which Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s top critic, was imprisoned, his movement banned and many of his allies forced to flee. Moscow says it is simply enforcing laws to counter extremism and protect the country from what it says is malicious foreign influence.

Critics say Vladimir Putin, who has been in power as president or prime minister since 1999, dates back to Soviet times, when there was zero tolerance for dissent. The Kremlin, contrary to the West on everything from Ukraine to Syria, says it is impossible to re-establish the Soviet Union.

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The legal assault on the Memorial, which documents and keeps alive the memory of Joseph Stalin’s “Great Terror” from 1937-38 among other episodes, is an attempt to launder the darkest chapters of Soviet Russia, which do not agree with the Kremlin’s account of a resurrected country without something. to be ashamed of, they say.

“Memorial is a special organization with its own ideology. We combine what are called relevant human rights activities with historical studies and understanding of Russia’s historical path in the 20th century. It seems that such an association does not please anyone in the Russian leadership. ,” he says. Oleg Orlov, a memorial board member, said outside court. Read more

When the court heard the case against the Memorial, which said it was a force for good, even though it sometimes made minor bureaucratic mistakes, four policemen dressed in fur hats carried away a bearded protester after shouting, “There are no laws, there is no property, there are no rights, there are no choices. “

When the man was carried away, he shouted: “The Russians love the bitch Stalin.”

A state prosecutor told the court that the Memorial had promoted what he called a false image of the USSR as “a terrorist state” and blackened the memory of the Communist state’s behavior during World War II. He said “someone” paid Memorial for such treason.

Memorial is open about the fact that it receives support from abroad, one of the main reasons why the authorities have stamped it as a foreign agent. Its website shows funding from Poland, Germany, Canada and the Czech Republic.

Although Putin has made it clear that he is not a fan of communism, modern textbooks have praised Stalin’s role as a modernizer and as the man who helped the Soviet Union defeat the Nazis in World War II, one of the cornerstones of Putin’s image. . tried to forge for modern Russia.

Memorial said in a statement that the ruling showed that the modern Russian state was protesting against its interpretation of Soviet history.

“The decision … reaffirmed that the history of political terror … does not remain an academic theme for Russia of interest to specialists only, but an acute problem for modern Russia. Our country needs an honest and careful reflection on its Soviet past, “it said.

Memorial would find legal ways to continue its work because it was not an organization or even a movement, it said.

“Memorial is the need for Russia’s citizens to know the truth. No one will succeed in ‘liquidating’ this need.”

International rights groups and the US State Department condemned the decision.

“We urge the Russian authorities to put an end to their harassment of independent voices and human rights defenders and to stand in solidarity with those who have been subjected to repression in order to exercise their right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price, to journalists. . Read more

The memorial was established in the “glasnost” era of Soviet liberalization of prominent dissidents, including Nobel Peace Prize winner and nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov, and served as Russia’s most important rights group through two wars in Chechnya in the 1990s.

Recently, it has spoken out against the repression of critics under Putin and has published lists of people it considers political prisoners.

Authorities placed the group on an official list of “foreign agents” in 2015, a move that included several restrictions on its activities.

Prosecutors last month charged the Memorial Human Rights Center and Memorial International, its parent structure, with violating the law on foreign agents.

Prosecutors said Memorial International violated the rules by not labeling all of its publications, including social media posts, with the label. They accused the Moscow-based center of tolerating terrorism and extremism, something it denied.

A separate court hearing on the fate of the Memorial Human Rights Center was due on Wednesday.

Putin, a former intelligence officer in the Soviet KGB security service, said this month that the Memorial had defended organizations that Russia considers extremist and terrorist, and that its list of victims of Soviet repression included Nazi collaborators.

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Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Maria Kiselyova Further reporting by Olzhas Auyezov, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Daphne Psaledakis and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington Writing by Andrew Osborn Editing by David Clarke, Peter Graff and Nick Macfie

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