- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2021

A Moscow court closed down another prominent Russian human rights organization on Wednesday — the second such shuttering in as many days — amid growing concern over a widening Kremlin crackdown on rights groups, media, and opposition supporters.

The Moscow City Court granted prosecutors’ request to shut down Memorial Human Rights Center, a Russian civil society group known for publicizing tallies of political prisoners in the country.

The development came a day after Russia‘s Supreme Court had ruled to revoke the legal status of International Memorial, the parent organization of Memorial Human Rights Center.

Both groups, which were formed decades ago to document Soviet repression, were declared as “foreign agents” by Russian authorities — a label that subjects organizations operating in Russia to cumbersome financial reporting and disclosure requirements.

Prosecutors said the groups were failing to comply with obligations to identify as such in the content produced by the groups. Both groups have said they would appeal the decisions and vowed to “find legitimate ways to continue our work.”

Memorial Human Rights Center was also accused by Russian authorities of supporting extremist groups for including imprisoned members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious group banned in Russia, on its list. 

“We’ve been saying from the start that the ‘foreign agents’ law — and I’m doing the air quotations again — is not lawful, and it’s not to be amended but only abolished because it was designed with the aim of strangling civil society,” said Alexander Cherkasov, board chairman of the Memorial Human Rights Center. “Today, we received another proof of that.”

The rulings sparked outrage among crowds of supporters who showed up outside of the courthouses on both days despite freezing temperatures.

U.S. and European officials quickly condemned the rulings.

“The persecution of International Memorial and Memorial Human Rights Center is an affront to their noble missions and to the cause of human rights everywhere,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a statement Tuesday. “The people of Russia – and the memory of the millions who suffered from Soviet-era repression – deserve better.”

Amnesty International called Wednesday’s ruling “yet another blow to Russia’s civil society movement after years of relentless attacks.”

The Russian government has stepped up its pressure in recent months on rights groups and journalists, labeling dozens as “foreign agents” and as “undesirable.” Those labeled as “undesirable” are barred from organizing in Russia.

Russian authorities on Saturday blocked the website of a legal aid group, OVD-Info, that focuses on political arrests after a court ruled that the website contained materials that “justify actions of extremist and terrorist groups.”

OVD-Info says the charges are politically motivated.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide