11 November 2021
by Leonid Nikitinsky, founder of Novaya Gazeta, member of the Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights, recipient of the Moscow Helsinki group prize:
An administrative suit against the international non-governmental organisation the International Historical, Educational, Charitable and Human Rights Society Memorial*, filed with the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on November 8th (made public on November 11th), has been personally signed by Igor Krasnov, Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation. Unless the claim is withdrawn, which is rather difficult to imagine, the result of its consideration, scheduled for November 25th, is practically a foregone conclusion already.
The 20 clauses in the suit list the rulings by the Tverskoi district court, which imposed fines amounting to more than four million roubles on Memorial and its chair Yan Rachinsky in 2019-20 for failing to indicate the organisation’s “foreign agent” status in its publications, including online. Memorial states that it fully observed the requirements of the law and indicated its status in all materials, but that given the amount of work the society undertakes it is possible an oversight was made. In any case, Memorial paid the fines in full, fulfilling the rulings of the Tverskoi district court, which were subsequently appealed but once again confirmed by Moscow City Court. For the Supreme Court, which is considering the claim to dissolve Memorial, these prior court rulings may indicate de facto prejudice.
The Prosecutor General’s suit states that the last fine imposed on Memorial was filed in September 2020, and no details of further violations are cited.
We might ask ourselves here whether this indicates violation of the well-known legal principle of double jeopardy – and in any case, this raises the question of why the Prosecutor General only decided to open a suit to dissolve the society after 14 months.
The answer can only be political, not legal, and can only be found in the context of the Russian state’s efforts to create a particular unified and “valiant” history of the country, but we will not find out anything more precise than this.
Memorial’s organisational structures are also the registered owners of premises on Karetny Ryad in Moscow, which are familiar to many activists and where the organisation is based. And this property, as is often the case with political decisions made at a higher level, can create additional motivation for the law enforcement agencies responsible for these decisions.
“The society has demonstrated consistent contempt for the law in its activities,” Igor Krasnov said in a statement, “It also fails to ensure the openness of its activities and prevents their proper scrutiny by the public, which grossly violates citizens’ rights, including the right to reliable information.”
Memorial, which was founded in 1989 by some of the most prominent Soviet human rights defenders and former political prisoners, helped and continues to help Russian citizens through imparting truthful historical information and through its human rights activities. Many of these citizens will disagree with Igor Krasnov’s conclusions.
The best way to express this disagreement is to not be silent, and in particular to come to the Supreme Court at 11am on 25th November, when according to law, the session on this case should be opened.
* entered by the Ministry of Justice onto the register of non-profit organisations performing the function of a “foreign agent”
Translated by Elizabeth Rushton