In Russia, Verdicts on Human Rights Groups a 'Painful Coda'

Court orders closure of Memorial Human Rights Center, a day after parent company is shuttered
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 28, 2021 8:30 AM CST
Updated Dec 29, 2021 9:05 AM CST
Russia's High Court Puts Kibosh on Big Human Rights Group
Police officers unlock a man who chained himself to a pole in front of Russia's Supreme Court in Moscow on Tuesday.   (AP Photo)

Update: Moscow City Court on Wednesday shuttered one of Russia's most well-known human rights groups, just one day after its parent company saw the same fate from the nation's highest court. The Memorial Human Rights Center, like Memorial International, saw its closure after being accused by prosecutors of being a "foreign agent," with both verdicts being described by the New York Times as a "painful coda to a year marked by the erosion of civil rights and media freedoms" in Russia. Both groups have said they'll appeal, and that the moves are 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 ... was designed with the aim of strangling civil society," Alexander Cherkasov, board chair of the Memorial Human Rights Center, said Wednesday, per ABC News. Our original story from Tuesday follows:

Russia's Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that one of the country's oldest and most prominent human rights organizations should be shut down, a move that stirred up much public outrage and is the latest step in a monthslong crackdown on rights activists, independent media, and opposition supporters. The Prosecutor General's Office last month petitioned the Supreme Court to revoke the legal status of Memorial, an international human rights group that rose to prominence for its studies of political repression in the Soviet Union and currently encompasses more than 50 smaller groups in Russia and abroad, per the AP.

The court on Tuesday ruled in favor of the prosecution, which charged at the hearing that Memorial "creates a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state, whitewashes and rehabilitates Nazi criminals." Memorial was declared a "foreign agent" in 2016—a label that implies additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations that can discredit the targeted organization. In their lawsuit to shut it down, prosecutors alleged that the group repeatedly violated regulations obliging it to mark itself as a foreign agent, as well as tried to conceal the designation.

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Memorial and its supporters have maintained the accusations are politically motivated, and the organization's leaders have vowed to continue their work even if the court shuts it down. Pressure on the group has sparked public outrage, with many prominent figures speaking out in its support this month. Several people were reported detained on Tuesday for picketing the courthouse. In recent months, the Russian government has designated a number of independent media outlets, journalists, and human rights groups as "foreign agents." At least two disbanded to avoid a tougher crackdown.

(More Russia stories.)

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