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Russia says Memorial violated 'foreign agent' law

November 11, 2021

Russian prosecutors have set a November 25 court hearing for the Memorial human rights group. Already labeled a "foreign agent," prosecutors now charge the group violated the law.

Supporters of the Russian Communist Party take part in a flower and wreath laying ceremony by Lenin's Mausoleum in Red Square and a memorial complex to Heroes of the Revolution by the Kremlin Wall, to mark the104th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution last Sunday
Memorial began in the late Soviet period investgating Stalin-era crimesImage: Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS/picture alliance

Russia's oldest and best-known human rights group announced Thursday it was being charged with violating the country's notorious "foreign agents" law.

Memorial said it had been notified that prosecutors were demand its main offices be closed for violating the "foreign agents" law, charges the group claims are politically motivated.

Championing rights from within Russia

Born out of the "glasnost" reform era in the 1980s of the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, Memorial initially focused on Stalinist crimes. In recent years though, Memorial has been outspoken regarding the repression of opposition figures, rights activists, members of the media and others targeted by Putin's regime.

Two days ago, a post on the Memorial website noted the sharp increase in political prisoners in Russia, up to 420 from 360 last year, though the group said the actual number was likely much greater.

A man carries a ladder as he walks past one of the entrances to the Memorial rights group office in Moscow in 2013 where the graffiti on the facade reads: 'A Foreign Agent'
In 2013, Memorial's Moscow headquarters was spray painted with the words, 'a foreign agent'Image: Getty Images/AFP/Kudryavtsev

Memorial's offices across Russia have been attacked in the past on several occasions.

The rights group said the case against it would be heard in court on November 25.

'Foreign agent' law targeting NGOs and individuals

The Russian government placed Memorial on its "foreign agents" list back in 2015.

Memorial board member Oleg Orlov said the label, with its insinuations of espionage has left the group "in shock."

"On the other hand, this isn't surprising," Orlov said, adding, "In recent years, such wild things have been happening in Russia that this doesn't really elicit amazement."

The Kremlin says the foreign agent law is justified because Russians should know when NGOs, media outlets and others receive foreign money for political activities under the Kremlin's expansively broad definition. Putin's critics allege it's a pretext to silence or shutter independent charities and problematic people. 

ar/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)