Protests have broken out in Russia after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that a human rights group needs to be shut down.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Prosecutor General’s Office, revoking the legal status of the human rights group Memorial. While the organization aims to highlight political repression in the former Soviet Union, the court claimed that the group “creates a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state, whitewashes and rehabilitates Nazi criminals.”
This ruling has sparked outrage, with protestors gathering outside of the courthouse on Tuesday and chanting “disgrace!” Several people were reportedly detained during the protests and charged with picketing the courthouse. The group and its supporters claim that the accusations of Nazi rehabilitation are false and that they are instead politically motivated. Speaking after the verdict, one of the lawyers representing Memorial said that they plan to fight the ruling.
“Of course, nothing is over with this. We will appeal, and Memorial will live on with the people,” said Memorial lawyer Maria Eismont, “because it’s the people behind it serving this great cause first and foremost. The work will continue.”
Memorial currently consists of more than 50 groups in Russia and other countries. It was previously labeled as a “foreign agent” in 2016, subjecting it to increased government scrutiny.
Pressure on the group has sparked public outrage, with many prominent figures speaking out in its support this month. Several people were reportedly detained on Tuesday for picketing the courthouse.
Memorial’s branch, the Memorial Human Rights Center, is up for closure as well, with a court hearing in the Moscow City Court scheduled for Wednesday morning.
Russian authorities in recent months have mounted pressure on rights groups, media outlets and individual journalists, naming dozens as foreign agents. Some were declared “undesirable” — a label that outlaws organizations in Russia — or accused of links to “undesirable” groups, several were forced to shut down or disband themselves to prevent further prosecution.
On Saturday, the authorities blocked the website of OVD-Info — a prominent legal aid group that focuses on political arrests — and urged social media platforms to take down its accounts after a court ruled that the website contained materials that “justify actions of extremist and terrorist groups.” The group rejected the charges as politically driven.
OVD-Info condemned the ruling to shut down Memorial.
“Memorial is an institution of national memory about the times of the Great Terror and Soviet repressions,” the group said in a statement.
“To shut down such an institution is to publicly justify Stalin’s repressions,” it said. “It is a clear signal both to the society and to the elites: ‘Yes, repressions were necessary and useful to the Soviet state in the past, and we need them today as well.’”
Five allies of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny were taken into custody Tuesday. Earlier this year, a court in Moscow outlawed Navalny’s organizations — the Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his country-wide network of regional offices — as extremist, exposing their staff members and supporters to prosecution.
One of the five detained activists detained on Tuesday, Ksenia Fadeyeva, is reportedly facing charges of forming an extremist group. Fadeyeva used to run Navalny’s regional office in the Siberian city of Tomsk, and in last year’s election won a seat in the city legislature.
Another Navalny ally, Lilia Chanysheva, was arrested and jailed in November on similar charges. She used to head Navalny’s office in the Russian region of Bashkortostan and is facing up to 10 years in prison, if convicted.
Navalny himself is serving 2½ years in prison for violating the terms of his probation from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that is widely seen as politically motivated. The politician was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — accusations that Russian officials reject.
Most of his top allies have faced prosecution this year on various criminal charges and have left Russia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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