19 May 2023
By Veronika Svizeva
On 19 May, FSB officers conducted a series of searches in Perm of the homes of eight civic and community activists. The searches were carried out by FSB officers in connection with a criminal case against Robert Latypov and Aleksandr Chernyshev, two former employees of Perm Memorial (an organization liquidated in 2022 that had been part of international Memorial that itself had been designated a ‘foreign agent’ and then liquidated) Today, the regional FSB directorate said the two men were being charged with the criminal offence of ‘attempted smuggling of cultural property.’ Allegedly, they had tried to smuggle out of Russia some of Memorial’s archival documents. We got in touch with Robert Latypov, the former head of Memorial in Perm. He explained what documents they were talking about, where they were being taken, and why.
According to the investigation, Robert Latypov and Aleksandr Chernyshov, chair of the Perm NGO Centre of Historical Memory, acting by prior conspiracy, attempted to smuggle documents from Memorial’s archives from Russia to Germany. The FSB based the charges on a forensic assessment and reported that the documents were of cultural and historical value.
Eight Perm residents, whose homes were searched today, are witnesses in the case and have given undertakings of non-disclosure. Aleksandr Chernyshov is currently in detention in a Moscow police station: he was arrested at Sheremetevo airport on 5 May and sentenced to 15 days in jail on charges of hooliganism. The only defendant in the case accessible to journalists is Robert Latypov, former head of Memorial in Perm and currently outside Russia. He says he is monitoring the situation.
‘This is completely awful,’ Robert Latypov told 59.RU. ‘Memorial has existed in Perm for 30 years.’
We asked him to explain what cultural values he was talking about, and why there was a need to move the archive.
‘Like any organization, we had the usual flow of documents. There are many official documents: minutes of meetings, grant applications, projects, reports, orders. We don’t have any literary treasures,’ the former head of Perm Memorial stressed.
According to Robert Latypov, two years ago, prior to its liquidation, the organization underwent an inspection by the Ministry of Justice and submitted a full report of its documents.
‘Officials have already seen and studied all the organisation’s official documents,’ said Robert Latypov. ‘[In 2022] the Perm authorities forcibly removed Memorial from the official register of Legal Entities and liquidated it.’
Latypov explained that volunteers decided to collect Memorial’s official documentation into one archive and systematise it.
‘The work took six months. All in all, several boxes of papers were collected,’ he said. ‘They were lying around in Perm. On 10 March, we wanted to send the documentation to our colleagues in Moscow, so that they could make an initial assessment of these documents and choose which of them were important, which were worth preserving in terms of telling the history of how Memorial worked as a social movement. Chernyshov had nothing to do with the sending of the documents. He had previously just participated in the collection of these documents, which was not a criminal act. The documents were sent to Moscow through a normal delivery company.
Latypov says that on 11, 12 and 13 March searches were carried out at the homes of former Memorial staff.
‘All these documents were confiscated. We still don’t know what’s happened to them, where they are now,’ said Robert Latypov.
He said that the homes of eight human rights workers and activists were searched as part of the criminal case, according to his information. Among them were members of the Presidential Human Rights Council Svetlana Makovetskaya and Tatiana Margolina, journalist Tatiana Cherepanova, ex-member of the regional public monitoring commission on prisoners’ rights Oksana Asaulenko, human rights defender Igor Averkiev, member of the region’s Public Chamber Nadezhda Agisheva, the lawyers Sergei Trutnev and Sergei Maksimov, and former member of the board of Perm Memorial Vera Sedinina.
‘They’re all witnesses, and none of them have been detained,’ Robert Latypov added. ‘This criminal case is a complete fabrication, intended to kill what little remains of civil society in Perm that is still trying to carry on its work. The ranks of activists have been severely thinned in recent years. This is all intended to intimidate civil society activists and push them out of the country.
We reported earlier that Perm human rights ombudsman Igor Sapko had commented on the FSB’s searches of activists.
*The international non-governmental organisation Memorial International Historical Educational, Charitable and Human Rights Society was liquidated by order of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. It had previously been declared a ‘foreign agent’ in Russia.
Translated by Rights in Russia