The closure of the Top Rights Group Memorial in Russia is being considered by a Russian court.
On Thursday, Russia’s Supreme Court began hearing a request to close down Memorial, the country’s most visible human rights organization and a bedrock of its civil society.
Memorial, which was founded in 1989 by Soviet dissidents including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, has amassed a vast database of Soviet-era crimes and has ceaselessly advocated for human rights in Russia.
Prosecutors have urged the court to disband Memorial International, the organization’s central structure, for allegedly breaking Russia’s contentious “foreign agent” law.
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.
On a frigid Moscow day, dozens of people gathered outside the court to show their support for Memorial as the hearing began.
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.
“It’s unprecedented,” she added, adding that “nearly everyone” in Russia has a family member who was a victim of Soviet-era crimes.
The group’s founders believe that by taking the previously unthinkable step of closing Memorial, Russian authorities will be sending a message to both the West and domestic opponents.
Irina Shcherbakova, a founding member of the Memorial, told AFP ahead of the hearing that the message is: “We are doing anything we want to civil society here. We will put anybody we want behind prison and shut down whoever we want.” A 25-year-old lawyer named Vladimir Nemanov claimed he was outside the court because it was “the only way” to protect Memorial.
Remembering previous crimes is necessary “in order to understand and reflect on what is occurring in Russia today,” said Nemanov, who wore a black facemask with the words “Memorial cannot be forbidden” on it.
Over 100,000 people have joined an online petition to get the case dismissed.
The Supreme Court is hearing one of two cases filed against Memorial International this month, and it is being heard because the organisation is registered as an international body. The decision will not be appealable in a Russian court.
The case against the Memorial Human Rights Centre, on the other hand, started in a Moscow court on. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.