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Russia's Memorial to stay

January 28, 2015

Russia's highest court has dismissed a Kremlin bid to shut down leading human rights group Memorial. Activists are calling the verdict a rare victory for civil society and freedom of speech in Russia.

Russland Flagge neben Kreml-Kirche
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Supreme Court judge Alla Nazarova rejected a lawsuit Wednesday by Russia's justice ministry to close down the human rights group Memorial. The organization gained a reputation by exposing Soviet-era repression.

The government department argued Memorial's charter did not correlate with the work it carried out, and it had committed a vast number of breaches, such as giving misleading information about overseas finance.

Following the judgment, the ministry released a statement saying Memorial had rectified all violations and the case would now be closed.

Memorial, which also works on issues relating to human rights across Russia, including the troubled Caucasus region, welcomed the court's findings but cautioned Moscow was still trying to control the work of non-governmental organizations.

"It is good that common sense won out," senior Memorial member Yan Rachinsky said in court.

"But it is difficult to accept it as a full victory for our organization."

Board member Oleg Orlov said the decision came down to a strong public campaign in support of Memorial, cautioning "the overall situation with Russian civil society is awful."

The rights group established itself during the final years of the Soviet Union, recording Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's purges. They also worked to commemorate victims of the 1930s mass executions.

Since his election for a record third term in 2012, President Vladimir Putin has introduced a raft of measures to make life unbearable for non-governmental groups.

The lawsuit came two years after harassment in the form of smear publications and vandalism to the group's headquarters in Moscow.

Memorial is currently before the courts fighting a separate legal battle against an official move to brand the group a "foreign agent." The controversial new law targets non-governmental groups which receive overseas funding.

jlw/jr (AFP, epd)