In defence of Memorial. Statement by PEN-Moscow and the Free Speech Association
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16 October 2021

In the photograph:  Zoya Svetova, journalist, human rights defender, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and signatory of the declaration

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Эхо Москвы]

PEN-Moscow [1] and the Svobodnoye Slovo (Free Speech) association [2] express their solidarity with the International Memorial Society [3] (an NGO considered a foreign agent by the Russian authorities) in connection with the attack made on Memorial.  On 14 October 2021, during the screening of the film Mr Jones [4] organised by Memorial International in cooperation with the Polish Cultural Centre in Moscow, an organised group of unknown persons burst into the office of Memorial on Karetny Ryad in central Moscow, behaving aggressively and threatening members of the audience. [5]

Particularly alarming was the behaviour of employees of two federal TV channels and of law enforcement officers during and after the attack by the hooligans.  As far as can be told from media reports, journalists from the NTV television channel were present in the office of Memorial at the same time as the attackers, and the purpose of their presence is still unclear.

The behaviour of the security forces was particularly disconcerting: only three of the twenty or so attackers were briefly detained, and they were then released. People in the audience and Memorial staff members, on the other hand, were detained in the building, the doors were locked, and legal advisers were able to get into the building only with difficulty and with delay.

Meanwhile, members of the security services searched not only the scene of the incident – that is, the hall where the film was being shown – but also the offices of Memorial.  After a few hours – and although they had already been given camera recordings of the events on a flash drive – the police seized the surveillance camera and also part of the fire alarm system.  This undermined the security and normal working of Memorial’s office:  the lack of a fire alarm meant that the security services could shut the premises down.  Such actions by the police are outrageous and alarming.

On 15 October, the head of Memorial, Yan Rachinsky, was summoned to the Department of Economic Security and Anti-Corruption of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs to provide evidence.  The police demanded proof of Memorial’s registration, copies of its statutory and founding documents, as well as a copy of the film, the screening of which had been disrupted by the unknown assailants who had attacked Memorial’s office the day before.

We demand that the Moscow police immediately investigate the incident and bring those responsible to justice in accordance with the law.  We call on Moscow police officers to immediately return the video recorder and the fire-alarm equipment that they seized.

The attack on the offices of the International Memorial Society on 14 October is a serious threat to the existence of civil society in Russia, and connivance with the attackers in this instance is absolutely unacceptable.

For a list of signatories, see here.

Please note: Footnotes have been entered by the translator and are not part of the original document. 

[1] PEN-Moscow is a branch of PEN-International, a worldwide organisation dedicated to the defence of freedom of speech.  Founded in London in 1921, PEN was one of the world’s first non-governmental organisations and international bodies advocating for human rights.  For more information, see

[2] Svobodnoye Slovo is a Russian association of writers, journalists, translators, editors, publishers and professional bloggers.  Founded in 2017, it works to defend human rights and, in particular, freedom of speech.

[3] Memorial is human rights movement formally established in the Soviet Union in 1989.  It is devoted in particular to the protection of historical memory.  In 2016, Memorial International was declared a foreign agent by the Justice Ministry of the Russian Federation.  It has since come under increasing pressure from the authorities.  For more information, see


[5] For a first-hand account of the attack, see  The film tells the story of Gareth Jones who in 1933 was the first identified journalist to report to the outside world on the famine of 1932-1933 in Soviet Ukraine known as the Holodomor, in which millions died. On Gareth Jones, see On the Holodomor, see

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