Russia: Memorial Human Rights Center faces ban | DW | 29.12.2021

The Memorial Human Rights Center is facing closure before a Moscow court on Wednesday for not marking all of its publications with a “foreign agent” label. The Kremlin has forced the designation on media outlets and nongovernmental organizations the state claims receive funding from abroad.

A lawyer from Memorial told the AFP news agency that “it’s obvious” Russia will move to shut down the Memorial Human Rights Center. 

Wednesday’s hearing comes a day after the Supreme Court ruled against the main organization, Memorial International, which documents Soviet-era purges. Memorial, Russia’s most prominent human rights group, was banned on similar charges of failing to abide by the “foreign agent” laws and failing to label materials and publications, including social media posts, as made by a registered foreign agent.

The ruling sparked an international outcry with the United States, Germany, France and the European Union all voicing objections to the group’s forced closure.

What does the Memorial Human Rights Center do?

In contrast to the historical investigations of Memorial International, Memorial Human Rights Center campaigns on behalf of political prisoners, migrants and other minorities, and focuses on rights abuses in the North Caucasus, including in Chechnya.

The group also maintains an active list of political prisoners in the country, which includes the names of Alexei Navalny, Putin’s strongest domestic opponent, and several Jehovah’s Witnesses imprisoned in the country.

Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, said the move to close Memorial “speaks to the fears of the Russian government that it is no longer willing to tolerate the honest and objective accounting of its conduct that Memorial provides.”

Roth added, “If that mirror is too awful to look at, the answer is to change the conduct, not to shatter the mirror.”

What is Memorial?

Memorial is Russia’s oldest and most prominent human rights organization, established to investigate the millions murdered under the direction of Russian dictator Josef Stalin and campaign for the rights of political prisoners and the politically oppressed. It was founded in the late 1980s by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov and other Soviet-era dissidents.

Among the charges lobbed against the group, prosecutors alleged Memorial “creates a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state and denigrates the memory of World War II.”

The same prosecutor said Memorial’s list of victims of Stalinist repressions includes “Nazi offenders with the blood of Soviet citizens on their hands.”

For decades, the Soviet Union deflected blame for its own massacres onto Nazi Germany, such as the prominent case of the thousands of Poles who were massacred in the woods in Katyn in 1940.

Henry Reznik, a lawyer for Memorial, described the prosecutors’ charges as “reminiscent of the 1930s,” when purges were actively carried out under Stalin’s direction.

In the past, Memorial had been fined by Russian courts many times. The group has said all charges faced by Memorial are politically motivated.

Remaking Russia’s past in the present

Putin and the cadre of siloviki, or security services men, around him in the Kremlin have done much to revive the cult of Stalin in modern Russia. Great emphasis has been placed on the mythology of Russia’s victory in World War II, known in Russia as “the Great Patriotic War.”

On Tuesday evening, Memorial International released a statement following the court’s ruling against it which said in part, “Memorial is the need of the citizens of Russia to know the truth about its tragic past, about the fate of many millions of people.”

Jan Raczynski, a leader within Memorial, said Memorial planned to fight the ruling and would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

ar/dj (AFP, dpa)

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