A Moscow court is hearing a case against Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most prominent human rights organizations. Memorial’s Human Rights Center is being accused of allegedly supporting terrorists and extremists. The prosecutor general has asked for it to be dissolved. Another branch of the NGO, which is being accused of violating administrative rules around its status as a so-called “foreign agent.” Critics say both cases are politically motivated. Memorial’s work in Russia focuses on fighting totalitarianism, both in today’s Russia and in the past. Every year the NGO organizes public readings of the names of those persecuted and killed during the Soviet era and houses an archive of victims of political repression. It also publishes lists of current political prisoners. Memorial’s supporters say if the NGO is closed it could be a watershed moment for Russia’s civil society.
The Soviet Secret Police, housed in today’s FSB building, persecuted millions during the Soviet era.
Memorial’s archivist Alexei Makarov puts the number at around 11 million. For decades now, Memorial has been working to create a huge archive of those shot, imprisoned or deported during Soviet times, as well as promoting human rights across Russia.
But Memorial itself is under political pressure. It was labelled a so-called “foreign agent” several years ago. Now the prosecutor general’s office wants Memorial to close. The human rights branch of the NGO has been accused of allegedly “justifying extremism.” The branch that focuses on history is on trial for violating foreign agent laws.
The Kremlin’s spokesperson has refused to comment on the case against Memorial. He says that the court’s decision on whether or not to close the organization will be independent – and has nothing to do with politics.
At Memorial’s offices, the case to close the NGO has led to a huge outpouring of public solidarity. People have been bringing in letters of support, and an online petition to stop the closure has over 100 000 signatures.
For decades Memorial has been pushing against totalitarianism in Russia’s past and in the present. Now many observers say the case against it is a litmus test for the future of the country’s whole civil society. DW’s Emily Sherwin has more.
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