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Russian court resumes case to disband Memorial rights group

December 14, 2021

A Moscow court heard prosecutors make the case for banning Russia's best-known human rights organization, Memorial International. The case has garnered worldwide attention, with protests in Berlin yesterday.

Police officers detain a demonstrator holding a placard outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday
Police officers detain a demonstrator holding a placard outside the Supreme Court on TuesdayImage: Pavel Golovkin/AP Photo/picture alliance

Russia's Supreme Court on Tuesday resumed a case pressing for the dissolution of the renowned Memorial International human rights organization.

The prosecutor general's office has requested the shutdown of the group, which seeks to secure the rights of political prisoners and casts an eye at historic repression in Russia, particularly during the Soviet Union era.

The case has attracted international criticism, with Western governments and rights groups saying the move is another step toward silencing dissent in the country.

What is Memorial accused of?

Prosecutors claim that Memorial International has violated a law on "foreign agents" on several occasions, and sought to hide that designation.

The organization was classified as a "foreign agent" by Russian authorities in 2016, as part of a contentious law that critics argue is a means to shutter critical nongovernmental organizations on flimsy pretext.

The tag complicates the group's work, adding additional government scrutiny and that it must disclose itd sources of funding. The designation also carries strong pejorative connotations, and all publications must be labeled.

Memorial and its supporters claim that the accusations are politically driven.

Founded in 1989 by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, the group has been compiling a list of political prisoners. These include religious minorities banned in Russia and the Kremlin's most prominent critic internationally at present, Alexei Navalny.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been critical of the group, saying it has provided support to terrorists and extremists.

Moscow 'Memorial' hearing

Protests outside court

In front of the Supreme Court building in central Moscow on Tuesday, dozens of supporters gathered despite subzero temperatures.

Police detained a supporter holding a placard saying "Hands off Memorial."

Ahead of the continuation of the trial, Memorial board member Vera Ammer warned of the consequences of dissolving the group.

Ammer told German radio station Bayern 2 that the ban would send a negative signal and would deter dissent, especially for smaller rights organizations in Russia.

"Memorial is known worldwide, and these smaller initiatives, which all still exist in other places, are of course much less well-known," Ammer said, adding that other groups might subsequently disappear without anyone noticing.

Victims of Stalinist purges

Berlin urged to maintain pressure

Several dozen demonstrators gathered at the Russian embassy in Berlin on Monday evening, after calls for widespread protest by Amnesty International and writers' organization PEN.

Ammer called for a strong reaction from the German government and at the international level, should the group be disbanded: "I expect that the case will be addressed on all occasions and not forgotten."

Ammer said the case must be brought up "even at the highest level in negotiations even in half a year, in a year and later [...] So that it is clear, this will not be forgotten and this will not remain without consequences."

rc/msh (dpa, AFP)