Defenders are pleading with a Russian court not to shut down a prominent human rights organization.
On Thursday, supporters of Russia’s most well-known human rights organization, Memorial, requested the Supreme Court to dismiss a case seeking to shut it down, saying that doing so would be a “sad day” for the country.
Memorial is facing its most serious legal challenge since it was created by Soviet dissidents, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, in 1989, for alleged violations of its classification as a “foreign agent.”
Memorial, a pillar of Russian civil society, has amassed a vast archive of Soviet-era crimes and has relentlessly advocated for human rights in Russia.
Prosecutors have petitioned the Supreme Court to disband Memorial International, the group’s central structure, for allegedly failing to apply a “foreign agent” identification as required by a contentious legislation governing organizations that receive financing from other countries.
The closure of Memorial has prompted significant outcry, with supporters claiming that it will mark the end of an era in Russia’s post-Soviet democratisation.
It comes after a year marked by unprecedented repression of President Vladimir Putin’s critics, including the imprisonment of prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and the outlawing of his organizations.
Prosecutors accused Memorial of “systematically” omitting to utilize the foreign agent label and of attempting to conceal its position throughout the hearing, which lasted several hours before being adjourned until December 14.
Memorial’s lawyers and founders rejected this, claiming that all of the organization’s materials were correctly labeled and that only a small number of documents were lacking the label.
“We’re talking about the liquidation of an organization that assists people… an organization that preserves our shared memory,” Yelena Zhemkova, one of the organization’s co-founders, told the court.
“Technicalities cannot be used to close such an organization.”
On a chilly Moscow day, more than 200 people gathered outside the court to show their support for the group.
Shutting down Memorial, said Maria Krechetova, a 48-year-old philosophy instructor, would be a “insult to the millions” who suffered during the harsh Soviet dictatorship.
“The Banning Memorial would be the death knell for the idea that a person matters (in Russia) and that their rights matter,” she said.
“In our country, memorials are quite important. Above all, this organization researches history, repressions, and other forms of oppression “Arina Vakhrushkina, 18, expressed her opinion.
“It’s a chapter in our history that the authorities are attempting to erase; all they want to be proud of is our triumphs.”
Over 100,000 people have joined an online petition to get the case dismissed.
The hearing on Thursday was in one of two cases filed against the this month. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.