Russia Shuts Down Another Human Rights Organization It Labeled 'Foreign Agent'

A Russian court has granted a request that The Memorial Human Rights Center be shut down one day after the closure of its sister organization.

On Tuesday, Russia's Supreme Court ordered the revoking of Memorial's legal status. Now, the court has ordered the same for its human rights offshoot. The group drew international attention for its research into political repression during the rule of the former Soviet Union. However, both organizations were previously labeled as "foreign agents" and have been accused by Russian authorities of rehabilitating Nazi war criminals. Memorial maintains that these accusations are politically motivated and false.

"We've been saying from the start that the 'foreign agents' law -- and I'm doing the air quotations again -- is not lawful, and it's not to be amended but only abolished because it was designed with the aim of strangling civil society," said Memorial Human Rights Center board chairman Alexander Cherkasov. "Today, we received another proof of that."

Supporters of Memorial gathered outside of the Moscow courthouse on Wednesday to protest the ruling. Many of the protesters have been shouting "disgrace" and "shame" during these gatherings. One anonymous protester told Reuters that Memorial and The Memorial Human Rights Center were critical institutions that should not be shut down.

"It was a genuinely useful organisation that defended the rights of innocent people who were being persecuted for their convictions," the protester said. "There needs to be an opposition, people with different views. That's what the principles of political competition are about."

Moscow City Court
Police officers stand outside the Moscow City Court where a hearing over liquidation of Memorial's Human Rights Centre is ongoing, in Moscow on December 29, 2021. - Moscow court hears case against Memorial's Human Rights Centre, after Russia's Supreme Court outlawed Memorial International on December 28, 2021. Photo by Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images

Several top U.S. and European officials condemned Tuesday's decision to shut down Memorial as an attack on Russia's civil society.

Amnesty International called Wednesday's ruling to close the Memorial Human Rights Center "yet another blow to Russia's civil society movement after years of relentless attacks."

In recent months, Russian authorities have mounted pressure on rights groups, media outlets and individual journalists, naming dozens as foreign agents. Some were declared "undesirable" — a label that outlaws organizations in Russia — or were accused of links to "undesirable" groups, and several were forced to shut down or disband themselves to prevent further prosecution.

On Saturday, the authorities blocked the website of OVD-Info — a prominent legal aid group that focuses on political arrests — and urged social media platforms to take down its accounts after a court ruled that the website contained materials that "justify actions of extremist and terrorist groups." The group rejected the charges as politically driven.

Moscow city authorities served another prominent human rights group with an eviction notice on Tuesday. The Civic Assistance Committee, which assists refugees and migrants in Russia, said officials handed the organization a document voiding the agreement allowing the use of the space without compensation and ordered it to leave within a month.

"The Civic Assistance will be fighting (this)," the organization's chairwoman, Svetlana Gannushkina, said.

A number of Russian nongovernmental organizations switched to operating as informal entities in recent years to avoid being affected by restrictive laws.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Memorial Supporters
Supporters of the Memorial Human Rights group wearing face masks with the words "The Memorial cannot be banned!" gather in front of the Moscow Court in Moscow, Wednesday, December 29, 2021. The Moscow City Court has shut down the Memorial Human Rights Center, sister organization of International Memorial, which was ordered to close Tuesday by Russia's Supreme Court. AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko