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Explained: Why has the Russian Supreme Court ordered the closure of rights organisation Memorial International?

The organisation that was founded in 1992 sheds light on the political repressions in the Soviet-era and in present day Russia as well.

Supporters of the human rights group International Memorial and journalists gather outside a court building during a hearing of the Russian Supreme Court to consider the closure of International Memorial in Moscow, Russia December 28, 2021. (Reuters)

On Tuesday, Russia’s Supreme Court ordered the closure of Memorial International, which is one of the country’s most prominent and oldest human rights organisations.

The organisation that was founded in 1992 sheds light on the political repressions in the Soviet-era and in present day Russia as well.

“The decision of the Supreme Court once again confirmed that the history of political terror organized and directed by the state authorities remains for Russia not an academic topic of interest only to specialists, but an acute problem of our time,” Memorial International said in a statement.

“Our country needs an honest and conscientious reflection on the Soviet past; this is the guarantee of her future. It is ridiculous to believe that the judicial liquidation of International Memorial will remove this issue from the agenda,” it added.

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One of the founders of the memorial is the 1975 Nobel peace prize winner Andrei Sakharov father of the Soviet Hydrogen bomb, who later became an opponent of nuclear tests.

Why was this decision taken by the court?

The court said the decision to shut down this branch was taken because it violates a controversial foreign agents law. It also said that the organisation is misinterpreting Soviet history and “creating a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state,” “lashing out criticism on government bodies”.

In 2012, the Russian parliament advanced this legislation, which broadened the definition of a spy to include Russian nationals who help foreign states and organisations.

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In December 2020, certain amendments to this law allowed the targeting of any organisation that receives foreign funds. Foreign Policy reported in September that the amendments make it possible for the Russian regime to target any individual critics of Putin, even on social media.

On December 27, Reuters reported that an investigative journalist working for the BBC’s Russian language service was designated as a ‘foreign agent’ in October took the decision for self-imposed exile in Britain because of unprecedented surveillance.

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The court’s decision has prompted criticisms from the US and European Union. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken tweeted, “We condemn today’s decision to forcibly close International Memorial, one of Russia’s most respected human rights organizations. Russian authorities should end their repression of human rights defenders and other independent voices.”

First published on: 30-12-2021 at 17:20 IST
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