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Russian Court Orders 2nd Ban of a Major Human Rights Group in 2 Days

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MOSCOW — A Moscow court ordered the closure of one of the country’s most prominent human rights groups on Wednesday, a day after its parent organization was also shut down in verdicts that, for many Russians, served as a painful coda to a year marked by the erosion of civil rights and media freedoms.

Moscow’s City Court ruled that the Memorial Human Rights Center must close, a day after the country’s Supreme Court ordered the shuttering of its parent organization, Memorial International, which was founded in 1989 by Soviet dissidents to preserve memories of Soviet repression.

Together, the shutdowns reflected President Vladimir V. Putin’s longstanding determination to control the narrative of some of the most painful and repressive chapters in Russian history. Since January, the Kremlin has accelerated a campaign to stifle dissent, clamping down on independent media, religious groups and political opponents. Hundreds of people have been harassed, jailed or forced into exile.

Memorial’s Human Rights Center has kept a tally of political prisoners that now stands at 435 names — twice as many as in the late Soviet period, by some other accounts. Prosecutors accused the group of justifying “international terrorist and extremist organizations” by including on its list imprisoned members of religious groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Prosecutors said the activities of the group “aimed at creating a negative perception of the judicial system of the Russian Federation” and accused it of “misinforming” Russian citizens. They said members of the organization had “participated in all protest movements,” and “supported all protests aimed at destabilizing the country.”

Prosecutors also accused the group of failing to comply with a 2012 “foreign agent” law, the same reason the Supreme Court gave in closing down its parent organization. The controversial law requires that all public communication carry a disclaimer that it was produced by a “foreign agent” and requires onerous financial reporting from designated organizations.

The human rights center was named a “foreign agent” in 2013, shortly after the law came into effect, while its parent group, Memorial International, was designated as such in 2016.

The targeting of the organization’s historical archive and human rights center at the same time was proof that “the goals are political,” according to Ilya Novikov, a lawyer for Memorial.

“The state does not like that the human rights center speaks about how it behaves,” he said during the proceedings.

Tuesday’s verdict was criticized by both the U.S. secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles.

Outside the courtroom on Wednesday, several dozen people protested against the ruling, yelling “Shame!”

During the hearing, Alexander V. Cherkasov, the chairman of the rights center’s council, spoke to supporters, but addressed the government.

“Now you, the state, are trying to break the red flashing light which signals that something is wrong, instead of solving the problem itself,” he said.

“We may be closed,” he added, but Russians’ interest in human rights would not go away.

Ivan Nechepurenko and Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.



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