Memorial, Russian pillar of human rights, threatened with dissolution

This decision would crown months of pressure against critical voices of power in Russia, including the closure of independent media and classified NGOs “foreign agents“by justice. The opponent Alexeï Navalny was imprisoned and his movement dismantled for”extremism“.

Established in 1989 by Soviet dissidents including Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, Memorial began its work documenting Stalinist crimes and the Gulag, before embarking on the defense of human rights and political prisoners, both activities at high risks.

The NGO stood out for its investigations into Russian abuses in Chechnya, which cost the life of her collaborator Natalia Estemirova, who was assassinated in 2009. More recently, she implicated paramilitaries from the opaque group “Wagner“for alleged war crimes in Syria.

Having become over the years the main Russian rights group, the organization quickly found itself in the crosshairs of the authorities.

But it now faces the greatest threat of its existence: the Russian Prosecutor’s Office demanded on November 8 the liquidation of its central entity, Memorial International, which coordinates the work of the NGO network.

The latter has a decentralized structure, made up of dozens of independent entities across Russia and abroad.

In accordance with Russian law, the Supreme Court is examining this request for dissolution because Memorial International is registered as an international organization.

Adding to the concern, lawyers for the NGO will not be able to appeal the court’s decision to other courts in Russia.

– Legal offensive –

While the Europeans and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an end to the prosecution, the Kremlin stressed that Memorial had “since a long time“problems with Russian law.

One of its officials, Oleg Orlov, told AFP on Tuesday that the dissolution of Memorial International would complicate “strongly“the work of the NGO by depriving it of a legal basis to hire employees, receive funds or store its archives.

According to him, from “many legal questions“, however, remain in abeyance and will depend on the modalities decided by the Supreme Court.

The prosecution accuses Memorial International of repeatedly breaking the law on “foreign agents“, to which it has been subjected since 2016

According to the law, the “foreign agents“must display this qualifier in all their publications and carry out heavy administrative procedures.

In principle, the Supreme Court cannot ban all Memorial structures in Russia with a single decision, since they have their own legal entities and would therefore have to be closed one by one.

The members of the NGO nevertheless fear that the justice system will find a subterfuge to arbitrarily liquidate the entire network.

At the same time, the Moscow prosecutor’s office demanded the liquidation of the Memorial Human Rights Center, an entity that provides assistance, inter alia, to political prisoners, migrants and sexual minorities.

Blamed for breaches of the law on “foreign agents“, this center is also facing more serious prosecutions: it is accused of apologizing for”extremism and terrorism“for publishing a list of prisoners who are members of religious movements banned in Russia.

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