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Russia closes human rights group Sakharov Center

August 18, 2023

The organization, dedicated to Nobel Peace Prize winning rights activist Andrei Sakharov, was accused of illegally hosting conferences and exhibitions. It was created in Moscow almost three decades ago.

A view of the Sakharov Centre, a museum and cultural centre established on the initiative of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation in 1996, in Moscow
The Sakharov Center was vacated from its historic premises in the Russian capital in AprilImage: Valery Sharifulin/TASS/IMAGO

A Russian court on Friday shut down the Sakharov Center, a well-known organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of the physicist and Nobel Prize winning human rights activist Andrei Sakharov.

The closure of the human rights group is seen as part of the Kremlin's campaign to crack down on liberal-leaning organizations that challenge official narratives, including those about Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine.

Moscow City Court said in a statement that it had decided to liquidate the Sakharov Center at the request of the Justice Ministry for illegally hosting conferences and exhibitions.

Since its creation in 1996, the group has hosted hundreds of debates, exhibitions and other events. In 2015, thousands of people gathered there to pay their last respects to opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered near the Kremlin walls.

Authorities declared the group a "foreign agent" in 2014 and this year ordered the eviction of the center from its premises.

Who was Andrei Sakharov?

Andrei Sakharov, who died in 1989, was a key figure in developing the Soviet Union's hydrogen bomb program but later become renowned for his activism in promoting human rights and freedom of conscience.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 but was not allowed to travel to Norway to receive it. In 1980, he was sent into internal exile, which lasted six years.

The photo of Andrei Sakharov in the Sakharov Center
Andrei Sakharov was a key figure in developing the Soviet Union's hydrogen bomb program but later become renowned for his human rights activismImage: Hanna Wagner/dpa/picture alliance

In 1988, the European Parliament established the Sakharov Prize, an honorary award for individuals or groups who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought.

The organization founded in his honor operated the Sakharov Center museum and archives in Moscow.

Crackdown on dissent in Russia

Kremlin critics say the government is expanding a historic crackdown on dissent, with most opposition figures behind bars or in exile and numerous independent news outlets and human rights groups shut down, labeled "foreign agents" or outlawed as "undesirables."

On Thursday, authorities charged Grigory Melkonyants, the leader of Golos, a prominent independent election monitoring group, with being involved with an "undesirable" organization. He faces up to six years in prison.

In January, a court also ordered the closure of Russia's oldest human rights organisation, the Moscow Helsinki Group.

Another rights group, Memorial, which established itself as a key pillar in civil society, was disbanded by Russian authorities in late 2021, just months before Putin sent troops to Ukraine.

dh/nm (AFP, AP)

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