Russia’s justice ministry has applied to the country’s supreme court to “liquidate” Memorial, Russia’s leading human rights organisation.
The Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation has been a thorn in the side of the Kremlin for many years thanks to its work highlighting various human rights violations by the Russian government. Activists have denounced the attempt to close down the organisation, and said it proved that the Russian authorities perceive Memorial as “a threat”.
The court application to liquidate the organisation came to light on Friday, on the same day that Russian state-controlled NTV broadcast a program smearing Memorial, by suggesting that its employees aided terrorists, the Telegraph has reported.
No motive was given by authorities, but group members said that the pretext for the action was a “completely unfounded” interpretation of how regional groups within the organisation should be registered. “This can only be described as an encroachment on [our] rights and the hammering of a law-based state,” said Nikita Petrov, deputy chairman of Memorial. “It is absurd, and an attack on common sense.”
Sergei Parkhomenko, a journalist who led a number of anti-government protests on the streets of Russia in 2011 and 2012 told radio station Ekho Moskvy that the program and court action constituted a deliberate attempt by the Russian government to discredit Memorial. Its work to protect human rights was perceived by the authorities as “a threat, as posing a risk of being unmasked,” he said.
“For them, Memorial’s activities seem to be something noxious and dangerous,” he added. “And probably they are right – right in the sense that yes, it’s true, Memorial always treated the deeds of political structures that build their influence on limiting democratic rights and freedoms as an attack on human beings.”
Memorial was set up in 1989, before the break-up of the Soviet Union, as a union of regional groups dedicated to “historical education” and preserving the legacy of those who suffered under Soviet totalitarianism. During the 1990s a human rights aspect was added, which came to prominence for documenting abuse of civilians by Russian military personnel during the Chechen wars in that decade and on into the early 2000s.
Since his return to the Kremlin in 2012, the Putin administration has been accused repeatedly of accelerating a clampdown on free speech and dissent. One of Putin’s first acts was to approve a new law dictating that all civil society groups which receive foreign funding must register and identify themselves as “foreign agents”.
Orlando Figes, a British author who has worked closely with Memorial in the past told the Telegraph “This is another act of intimidation directed against Memorial along with the previous ones like forcing them to register as a ‘foreign agent’.
“The motivation is obviously hostile.”
He also took to Twitter to post “No! No! No! Putin moves to ban Memorial – the voice of memory for Stalin’s victims.”
Other authoritarian measures by the Putin government include allowing the government to block any website it wishes without justification, mandated registration of all popular blogs with a governmental watchdog, and new tougher penalties for unsanctioned protest. Alexei Navalny, an opposition politician and anti-corruption campaigner is currently under house arrest on trumped up charges of fraud, whilst one of his allies has applied to British authorities for political asylum after accusations of embezzlement were levelled at him.
In 2009, Memorial’s head of human rights, Oleg Orlov, was aquitted by a Russian court of defaming Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya. Mr Orlov had accused Mr Kadyrov of having the outspoken Memorial activist Natalya Estemirova assassinated.