Moscow: Russia’s Supreme Court has ruled that one of the country’s oldest and most prominent human rights organisations should be shut down for breaking a law requiring it to act as “a foreign agent”, and capping a year of crackdowns on Kremlin critics unseen since the Soviet era.
The Prosecutor General’s Office last month petitioned the Supreme Court to revoke the legal status of Memorial – an international human rights group that rose to prominence for its studies of political repression in the Soviet Union and currently encompasses more than 50 smaller groups in Russia and abroad.
The court on Tuesday (Moscow time) ruled in favour of the prosecution, which charged at the hearing that Memorial “creates a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state, whitewashes and rehabilitates Nazi criminals”.
The closure of Memorial International bookmarks a year in which Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s top critic, was jailed, his movement banned and many of his allies forced to flee. Moscow says it is simply enforcing laws to thwart extremism and shield the country from what it says is malign foreign influence.
Critics say that Vladimir Putin, in power as president or prime minister since 1999, is turning back the clock to the Soviet era when there was zero tolerance of dissent. The Kremlin, at odds with the West on everything from Ukraine to Syria, says it is impossible to recreate the Soviet Union.
The legal assault on Memorial, which documents and keeps alive the memory of Josef Stalin’s 1937-38 “Great Terror” among other episodes, is an attempt to whitewash Soviet Russia’s darkest chapters which do not chime with the Kremlin’s narrative of a resurgent country with nothing to be ashamed of, they say.
“Memorial is a special organisation with its own ideology. We combine what’s called relevant human rights activities with historical studies and comprehending the historical path of Russia in the 20th century. It seems that such a union does not please someone in the Russian leadership,” Oleg Orlov, a Memorial board member, said outside the court.
As the court heard the case against Memorial, which said it was a force for good even if it sometimes made minor bureaucratic errors, four policemen clad in fur hats carried away a bearded protester after he shouted: “There are no laws, there is no property, there are no rights, there are no choices.”
As the man was carried away, he shouted: “Russians love the son-of-a-bitch Stalin.”