Prominent Russian and international rights activists have urged Moscow to end a legal campaign to shut down Memorial, the country’s main civil society group, which is the latest target of a major Kremlin crackdown on activists and government critics.
Memorial branches emerged around the Soviet Union during a period of liberal reform in the late 1980s, then united under an umbrella organization that commemorated the millions of victims of Soviet repression and the prison camps of the Gulag.
In recent years, he has also offered his support to targets of politically motivated prosecution and abuse by the Russian security services, which have regained tremendous power during the 21-year reign of former military officer President Vladimir Putin. of the KGB.
Russia called Memorial a “foreign agent” several years ago for receiving funds from abroad, under a law that has now expanded to include many media and activists who have investigated or criticized Mr. Putin and his allies.
Days after declaring this month that Russian prisons now hold at least 420 political prisoners, Memorial was accused of flouting restrictions on his status as a “foreign agent” and of “justifying terrorism and extremism. ”, Defending the rights of those prosecuted under these terms, which are applied very widely in Russia today.
“I am fully aware of the years of abuse you have suffered for your efforts to sincerely remember the past and to pay homage to the memory of those who have suffered for speaking out and denouncing human rights violations in the present”, said Mary Lawlor. , UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders.
“You do this in the service of Russia and your fellow citizens, and for that, you are slandered as foreign agents and glorifiers of terrorism,” said the founder of Front Line Defenders, based in Dublin and former director of the Amnesty International branch in Ireland. Moscow press conference via video link on Thursday.
Fight for freedom
After expressing “solidarity, respect and admiration of her colleagues” in Memorial, Ms Lawlor said she hoped the Russian authorities “did not go so far as to disband [of Memorial] because that would show a blatant disregard for the values of the United Nations ”.
Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said Memorial had “fought for freedom, dignity and truth for the victims of the repression of the Soviet era and continues to attack most difficult human rights issues today ”.
The closure of the group “would have significant negative consequences (…) for civil society as a whole [in Russia] and the protection of human rights in the country, ”she added.
The Kremlin has said Russia will not listen to foreign criticism on what it calls domestic legal issues.
“The memorial is not [just] an organization. These are values and people who share those values, ”said Tatiana Glushkova, board member of the group’s human rights center. “Memorial … will continue to exist as long as these people exist.” “