News of the Day: 28 December 2021

International Memorial: On 28 December 2021 Russia’s Supreme Court ruled to close International Memorial. The lawsuit, filed by the Prosecutor General’s Office, referred to a missing ‘foreign agent’ designation on some of the materials produced by International Memorial. This is only a formal pretext, though, and the court hearings showed that these allegations were groundless. It was today when the real reason was revealed in the court. Prosecutor General’s Office representatives have stated that we are treating Russia’s Soviet-period history in a wrong way, ‘creating a falsified image of the USSR as a terrorist state’ and ‘levelling criticism against the state authorities.’ It appears that our opponents see the state as being exempt from all criticism. The decision of the Supreme Court has confirmed once again that the history of political terror organised and driven by the state has not remained a matter of a purely academic interest in Russia. Instead, it is a heated issue of immediate concern. Our country needs to make sense, in an honest and fair manner, of its Soviet past; this is a necessary requirement for Russia’ s future. It seems absurd to believe that the shutdown of International Memorial removes this issue from the agenda. Memory of the tragedies of the past is necessary for the entire society in Russia and beyond. Remembrance of state terror unites all the former Soviet republics. We will certainly appeal against the Supreme Court decision using all means available to us. We will also find legal ways of continuing our work. Memorial is more than an organisation, even more than a just public movement. Memorial is the need felt by Russians to know the truth about our country’s tragic past and the fate of millions of victims. There is no-one who is capable of liquidating that need.

Amnesty International: Reacting to the news that the Russian Supreme Court today ordered the closure of civil society organization International Memorial for allegedly violating “foreign agent” legislation, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, said: “International Memorial is a highly respected human rights organization that has worked tirelessly to document the atrocities and political repression carried out under the rule of Joseph Stalin and other Soviet leaders. By closing down the organization, Russian authorities trample on the memory of millions of victims lost to the Gulag. The closure of International Memorial represents a direct assault on the rights to freedom of expression and association. The authorities’ use of the ‘foreign agents’ law to dissolve the organization is a blatant attack on civil society that seeks to blur the national memory of state repression. The decision to shut down International Memorial is a grave insult to victims of the Russian Gulag and must be immediately overturned.

Civil Rights Defenders: In today’s unprecedented decision, the Russian Supreme Court has shut down the country’s most prominent human rights organisation – International Memorial Society. The organisation has been on trial since 25 November for allegedly violating the ‘foreign agents’ law, a law designed by authorities to silence critical voices and stifle civil society.

The Guardian: In a terrible year for human rights in Russia, beginning with the imprisonment of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the closure of International Memorial stands out for its ruthlessness.

The Guardian: The daughter of Natalya Estemirova, a former Memorial board member murdered in Chechnya for her human rights work in 2009, wrote in response to the verdict: “My mother always used to say: ‘It can’t get any worse than this.’ Turns out it can.”

RFE/RL: Russia’s Supreme Court has ordered the closure of Memorial International, one of the country’s oldest and most respected human rights organizations, capping a year of what critics called the state’s systematic dismantling of the country’s civil society.

The Moscow Times: Russia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the shuttering of Memorial, Russia’s oldest human rights watchdog, for repeatedly violating the country’s foreign agent law.

The Moscow Times: Memorial, dissolved by Russia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, was the country’s most respected human rights organization whose closure signals the tightening authoritarian tendencies under President Vladimir Putin.

Meduza: In a ruling on Tuesday, Russia’s Supreme Court dissolved the “Memorial” International Historical Educational Charitable and Human Rights Society, granting a petition by the Attorney General’s Office, which argues that the organization repeatedly violated Russia’s laws on “foreign agents” by failing to disclose its “agent” status in content shared on social media.

Meduza: [Yan Rachinsky] “Memorial will exist in Russia. Memorial isn’t limited to the two organizations [International Memorial and the Memorial Human Rights Center] that the Attorney General’s Office has come out against.  We will continue our activity without any fundamental changes. We have 60 organizations in Russia alone, they are all independent legal entities and they will continue their work calmly, even if today’s ruling, which runs counter to the law, is upheld in the court of appeal. In addition to Memorial, there are a great number of people who work on this topic [studying Soviet-era repressions] and, in any case, history won’t go unnoticed.” 

RFE/RL: Russian police have taken three former regional coordinators of Aleksei Navalny’s campaign team in for questioning amid continued pressure against the imprisoned opposition leader’s associates. The home of Zakhar Sarapulov, who headed the Irkutsk headquarters of Navalny’s network of regional campaign groups, was searched early on the morning of December 28 and Sarapulov was detained by Russia’s Investigative Committee. The same morning, the offices of the banned Navalny movement’s Tomsk headquarters were raided and its former head, Kseniya Fadeyeva, was detained at her cottage and taken in for questioning.

Meduza: Russian police reportedly detained as many as five former activists from Alexey Navalny’s disbanded political network on Tuesday, December 28. According to various reports, arrests were carried out in the cities of Tomsk, Irkutsk, Arkhangelsk, Barnaul, and Saratov (though not all of the detentions have been confirmed). Following interrogations, investigators brought criminal charges against two of the detained activists — former regional coordinators Ksenia Fadeeva and Zakhar Sarapulov — for involvement in an extremist group and participation in a nonprofit organization that infringes on the rights of citizens. Both Fadeeva and Sarapulov were arraigned on Tuesday and placed under restrictions pending trial. 

RFE/RL: A Russian inmate who complained to a watchdog group about being tortured, raped, and humiliated by prison guards said he was retaliated against, and went on a 22-day hunger strike in protest, according to his lawyer and relatives. The claims by Marsel Amirov, who is serving a 14-year sentence on a murder conviction, were the latest in a series of revelations and allegations pointing to widespread abuse of inmates in Russia’s sprawling prison system.

RFE/RL: The former inmate of a Russian jail who publicized shocking videos of torture said numerous officials from various agencies were aware of the abuse of prisoners but chose to cover it up rather than expose it. Syarhey Savelyeu, a 31-year-old Belarusian national who copied the videos while serving a sentence in Saratov in Russia’s Volga region, said in an interview with RFE/RL that he was “astonished” by the number of officials who knew of the torture.

Human Rights in Ukraine: It has taken five years, two acquittals and flagrant violations of the right to a fair trial, for those seeking a long sentence against renowned historian of the Soviet Terror and head of the Karelia branch of Memorial, Yury Dmitriev to get their way.  Acquittals in Russia are very uncommon, and an unprecedented two such cases should have meant that the prosecution was simply abandoned.  Instead, they made a third attempt, with judge Yekaterina Khomyakova from the Petrozavodsk City Court in Karelia proving more compliant.  On 27 December 2021, she found the historian ‘guilty’ as charged and provided the sentence demanded by the prosecutor – 15 years (in fact, a 9-year sentence, but with this this adding two years to the sentence already in force).  With Dmitriev turning 66 in January 2022, even the shorter period in a harsh regime prison is likely to be a death sentence, but the ‘conviction’ was presumably required since the charges were those used to justify his arrest and imprisonment back in December 2016.

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