Russian courts deal a blow to the very core of Russia’s civil society in political decisions to close Memorials

Press release
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Over the past two days, Russia’s courts have dealt two excruciating blows to the country’s civil society by liquidating two of its oldest and most prominent non-profits International Memorial and Human Rights Center “Memorial” for alleged violations of the notorious “Foreign Agents” law. These political decisions signal the regime’s determination to control the historical narrative of the Soviet past and mark a new milestone of political repression in modern Russia. FIDH denounces these prosecutions and calls for the strongest condemnation, solidarity and legal responses from the international community.

Today, Moscow City Court ordered the dissolution of Human Rights Center “Memorial”, one of Russia’s most prominent NGOs best known for maintaining the list of political prisoners, representing thousands of victims of human rights violations in domestic and international courts, providing legal assistance to political prisoners, refugees and migrants. HRC Memorial is and will remain a member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

"The order to liquidate HRC Memorial came as no surprise. We do not yet have the full text of the court’s decision but we intend to appeal in any case."

Anna Dobrovolskaya, executive director of Memorial

Earlier, on December 28, 2021, Russia’s Supreme Court ordered the liquidation of International Memorial Society, Russia’s oldest NGO whose primary aim has been to uncover and archive evidence of Soviet-era human rights abuses, locate burial sites, commemorate victims and educate the broader public with respect to human rights.

These activities have exposed the current regime’s repressive character and its manipulation of historical memory of the Soviet past to the detriment of human rights of ordinary Russians, with both Memorials becoming a thorn in the authorities’ side as a result.

"There is no doubt that the prosecution of the two related Memorial entities is retaliation for their tireless work in commemorating and protecting victims of human rights abuses. The destruction of these prominent NGOs is an affront to justice, memory and humanity and an enormous loss for Russia."

Alice Mogwe, FIDH President

The suffocation of civil society, which began around 2012, has reached its nadir at the end of 2021 with the authorities bringing a coordinated attack against the two Memorials. On November 8, 2021, the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation and the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office filed administrative complaints seeking the liquidation of International Memorial and HRC “Memorial”, respectively. The principal grounds for the two complaints included alleged failure to comply with the ignominious “Foreign Agent” law, including the requirement to label all materials as produced by a “Foreign Agent”. HRC Memorial was also accused of justifying terrorism and extremism.

The two trials were absurd even by the Stalinist show trial standards, revealing their true motive. Lasting just five hearings in the case of HRC Memorial and three hearings in the case of International Memorial, the trials failed to produce any reliable evidence substantiating any of the claims of the authorities or justifying the need for liquidation, with judgments resting on assertions made in the initial complaints, including that both organizations violated international human rights treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of Child. In the closing arguments of the case against International Memorial, the prosecutors admitted that the attempt to close Memorial was justified because in commemorating victims of Soviet-era atrocities, it “creates a false image of USSR as a terrorist state.”

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