Moscow (AFP) – The Russian Supreme Court on Thursday began studying a request for the dissolution of the central structure of the NGO Memorial, a historic pillar of the pro-democracy struggle in Russia whose ban would mark a sad milestone.
The liquidation of this organization would culminate months of pressure against voices critical of power in Russia, with the closure of independent media and NGOs considered “foreign agents” by justice.
As for the opponent Alexei Navalni, he has been jailed and his movement dismantled for “extremism”.
Created in 1989 by dissidents, including the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, Memorial began by documenting Stalinist executions and the history of the Gulag, and later expanded its activities to defend human rights and political prisoners.
Over the years, it has become Russia’s leading rights advocacy group, making Memorial a target of attack by the authorities.
The NGO has distinguished itself for its investigations into the abuses in Chechnya, which cost the life of its collaborator Natalia Estemirova, murdered in 2009. More recently, Memorial has criticized the paramilitaries of the opaque group “Wagner” for alleged war crimes in Syria. .
But now it faces the biggest threat of its existence: the Russian attorney general’s office demanded on 8 November the liquidation of its central entity, Memorial International, which coordinates the work of the NGO network.
It has a decentralized structure, made up of dozens of independent entities in Russia and abroad.
A sign of the importance of the NGO is that several dozen people gathered on Thursday morning in front of the court to express their solidarity, some wearing a black mask in which “Memorial cannot be prohibited” had been inscribed, according to what the AFP.
Memorial “defends a Russia where human rights mean something” and forbidding it “would be an insult to millions” of people who suffered in Soviet times, Maria Kretchetova, a 48-year-old philosophy professor, told AFP.
Vladimir Nemanov, a 25-year-old lawyer, also went to court to support the NGO, as it was “the only means” to defend Memorial.
In accordance with Russian law, it is the Supreme Court that studies the dissolution request as Memorial is registered as an international organization.
This means that the NGO’s lawyers will not be able to appeal the Court’s decision to other courts in Russia.
The Russian prosecutor’s office accuses Memorial International of having violated the law on “foreign agents” several times, to which it has been subject since 2016.
According to the law, “foreign agents” must present themselves as such in all their publications and must also carry out tedious administrative procedures.
In principle, the Supreme Court cannot prohibit all the Memorial structures in Russia by means of a single decision, since each one has its own legal entity, and they would have to be closed one by one.
But the members of the NGO fear that justice will find a subterfuge to arbitrarily liquidate the entire network.
© 2021 AFP
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Threat of dissolution for Memorial, pillar of human rights in Russia