Statement by the Council of Russian Human Rights Defenders on the authorities’ intention to close down the Moscow Helsinki Group

20 December 2022

This statement is produced or circulated or concerns the activities of the following organisations and individuals: Citizens Watch (Saint-Petersburg), Civic Assistance, Galina Arapova, Mass Media Defence Centre, Public Verdict Foundation, Lev Ponomarev, Civil Society Commission for Preservation of the Heritage of Andrei Sakharov

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group

The war against independent civil society institutions unleashed by the Russian authorities, and personally by Vladimir Putin, ten years ago seems to have reached its climax. On 20 December 2022, the Russian Ministry of Justice filed a lawsuit to close down the Moscow Helsinki Group which, along with Memorial, which was closed down a year ago, is the oldest, most authoritative and respected Russian human rights organisation.

Government policy towards civil society associations is the most important indicator of the effectiveness of the State and the health of the country as a whole. Our country, as it seems, is gravely ill.

After ten years of systematic restrictions on the activities of civic associations, the authorities are now destroying them. The main blow has fallen against human rights organizations, but the authorities are targeting any independent civil society institutions that voice opinions that do not conform to the arbitrary rules enforced as government policy.

The destruction of independent civil society initiatives is a war of the State against Russian society as a whole. Human rights organisations and civic institutions work for the good of society, documenting human rights violations, defending victims of arbitrary treatment, creating institutions for public oversight of State bodies, building the space for free discussion. For the current Russian government, all of the above are dangerous. The government seeks to get rid of the centres of independent activism, to completely subordinate society to itself, to designate dissenters as criminals and force them out of the country or destroy them.

The authorities are sending a clear message – civil society organisations can exist only on the following conditions: full government oversight; activities only within the framework and forms clearly outlined (or implied) by the government, which essentially eliminates the possibility of public criticism of government departments. As for the protection of human rights – this, according to the government, is the prerogative of law enforcement agencies.

The grounds chosen by the authorities to enforce the closure of a civil society organisation have no particular relevance. Officials of the Ministry of Justice do not give a great deal of thought to the significance of the imputed misdemeanour. Any formality is used to give the appearance of legitimacy to the latest absurd claim. If the director of an NGO crosses the street at a red traffic light that will also serve.

The legal validity of the authorities’ claims is highly questionable. The Ministry of Justice claims that the formal registration of the Moscow Helsinki Group in Moscow does not correspond to the actual geography of the organisation’s activities and the organisation participates in events in other Russian regions and that these are ‘gross violations.’ This doubtful and clearly insignificant ‘violation’ poses no public danger and could have been easily remedied by amending the group’s statutes. It obviously cannot be considered a sufficient or proportional grounds to liquidate the organisation and terminate its existence. In a rule-of-law state, violations of this kind are eliminated through routine procedures and with the assistance of the body responsible for overseeing the activities of civil society institutions. The main experience of decades of work by the Moscow Helsinki Group and the mission formulated by its long-time leader Liudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva is to unite and support the activities of regional human rights organisations. One would suppose that the role of the Ministry of Justice is to help bring the implementation of this important work into line with legal requirements. However, the Ministry of Justice is now apparently left with only one task: to torch the field of civil society organisations.

The closing down of the Moscow Helsinki Group, as planned by the authorities, is a symbolic crossing out of the last 40 years of our country’s history, taking us straight back to 1982 when the Moscow Helsinki Group announced the end of its activities because most of its members had been arrested by the Soviet KGB.

Happy New Year! Back to the USSR!

We remember that just a few years later, in the late 1980s, the Moscow Helsinki Group resumed its activities and became the motor for the development of the human rights movement in post-Soviet Russia. Nor will the Moscow Helsinki Group disappear now, we are certain of that. The current time of darkness will not last long. A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not engulfed it.

Council of Russian Human Rights Defenders:

  • Elena Shakhova, St. Petersburg, Citizens’ Watch
  • Oleg Orlov, Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre
  • Olga Sadovskaya, Team against Torture
  • Yury Dzhibladze, Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights
  • Svetlana Gannushkina, Civic Assistance Committee, Member of the board of Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre
  • Galina Arapova, Media Rights Defence Centre
  • Sergei Davidis, Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre
  • Leonid Drabkin, OVD-Info
  • Natalia Taubina, Public Verdict Foundation
  • Aleksandr Cherkasov, Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre
  • Leo Ponomarev, Civil Rights Project
  • Karinna Moskalenko, lawyer, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
  • Svetlana Astrakhantseva, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
  • Sergei Lukashevsky, Sakharov Centre, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
  • Sergei Krivenko, member of the board of the International Memorial Society (dissolved by court order on 28 February 2022), member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

The statement is open for signing.

Those wishing to add their names to the statement can write to:

Additional signatories:

1. Irina Sergeeva, International Protection Centre

2. Sergei Babinets, Team against Torture

3. Oleg Novikov, Public Verdict Foundation

4. Svetlana Toreeva, Public Verdict Foundation

5. Natalia Evdokimova, St. Petersburg Human Rights Council

6. Anatoly Razumov, Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg

7. Leonid Krikun, Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg

8. Evgeniya Litvinova, Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg

9.   Igor Karlinsky, Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg

10. Aleksandr Verkhovsky, SOVA Centre

11. Aleksandr Gorbachev, Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg

12. Tatiana Dorutina, Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg

13. Yury Nesterov, Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg

14. Tumas Misakyan, lawyer

15. Marina Agaltsova, lawyer

16. Abdulla Duduev, Russian Research Centre for Human Rights

17. Vitaly Servetnik, Russian Socio-Ecological Union

18. Elena Grei, Environmental Crisis Group

19. Nikolay Kostenko, former Moscow Helsinki Group staff member.

20. Mariya Ekser (Ekserdzhan), scriptwriter, writer.

21. Liudmila Alpern, human rights defender, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group award (2018).

22. Petr Stekanov-Voskresensky, LGBT human rights group, Queer Museum

23. Yury Savenko, President of the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia

24. Liubov Vinogradova, Executive Director, Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia, member of the board of the Russian Research Centre for Human Rights

25. Yaroslav Nikitenko, environmental and civil society activist

26. Vitold Iulievich Zalessky, Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg, PhD in physical and mathematical sciences, retired

27. Tatyana Bonch-Osmolovskaya, philologist and writer.

28. Andrei Rushailo-Arno, retired photographer.

29. Irina Galkova, historian, Memorial Research and Education Centre

30. Elena Vilenskaya, citizen of Russia.

31. Sergei Shpilkin, analyst.

32. Konstantin Aleksandrovich Kotov, Laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group award (2020).

33. Oleg Bodrov, Member of the board of the International Peace Bureau, Sosnov Bor – St Petersburg

34. Arkady Konikov, programmer, Moscow.

35. Irena Podolskaya, philologist 6.

36. Magomed Mutsolgov, head of the human rights organization MASHR, Ingushetia Republic 37.   Konstantin Konoplyanko, historian, slavist, Polish programme of the Memorial Society

38. Elena Baevskaya, member of PEN-Moscow, translator.

39. T. D. Iliushnikova

40. Andrei Suslov, Civic Education

41. Evgeny Lvovich Eisenstat

42.  Pavel Kudiukin, co-chair of the University Solidarity trade union

43. Dinar Idrisov, citizen

44. Denis Shedov, OVD-Info, Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre

45. Grigory Vaypan, lawyer

46. Aleksander Bekhtold, member of the Movement For Human Rights

47. Olga Mazurova, doctor.

48. Sergei Sokolov, volunteer at Moscow Helsinki Group, civil society activist, philologist.

49. Anatoly Mavrenkov, volunteer for the human rights project OVD-Info

50. Olga Gnezdilova, lawyer.

51. Marina Natapova, artist.

52. Bakhadyr Namazov, veteran of independent human rights defence in Uzbekistan

53. Nikolai Rekubratsky, researcher

54. Nadezhda Babkina, teacher, historian, writer

55. Olga Verbova, writer.

56. Nina Katerli, Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg, writer

57. Elena Grebeniuk, political émigré, former human rights defender, journalist

58. Elena Efros, coordinator of the humanitarian project Tales for Political Prisoners, St. Petersburg

59. Elena Pivovarova, Novosibirsk Memorial.

60. Vitus Media, Human Rights Council of St Petersburg

61. Igor Kochetkov, human rights defender, writer

62. Vera Goncharova, lawyer, Moscow.

63. Anastasia Samorukova, lawyer, Moscow.

64. Ella Polyakova, human rights defender, founder of the human rights organisation Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg

65. Viktor Kogan-Yasny, member of the Memorial Society

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