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Protesters demonstrated as a Russian court considered the closure of Memorial human rights center in Moscow. Protesters demonstrated as a Russian court considered the closure of Memorial human rights center in Moscow. 

Russia bans rights groups ahead of the new year

A Russian court orders the closure of a prominent human rights organization, following the closing of another advocacy group, in moves that critics say resemble the Soviet era. Wednesday's ruling is seen as part of a broader crackdown on dissent in Russia ahead of the new year.

By Stefan J. Bos

The decision to ban the Memorial Human Rights Center by the Moscow City Court comes after Russia's Supreme Court revoked the legal status of its sister organization, Memorial.

Critics say that with the Orwellian moves resembling the Soviet-era, Russia's judiciary effectively ended the activities of the country's leading human rights groups.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report

Both Memorial organizations were already labeled "foreign agents" in previous years, a designation that brings with it additional government pressure.

The court agreed with prosecutors that Memorial "creates a false image" of the Russia-dominated Soviet Union, or USSR, which collapsed in December 1991.

The Supreme Court said Memorial called "the USSR a terrorist state" while "whitewashing and rehabilitating Nazi criminals" from World War Two. The Memorial groups have denied the accusations as politically motivated and plan to appeal.

Shouting shame

On Tuesday, trial observers shouted "shame!" when the first decision on Memorial was read out. An older man was among protestors violently removed by police outside the court. 

Opposition politician Grigory Yavlinsky says the Court-ordered closure of Memorial underscores the rise in repression in modern-day Russia. "It is telling to us that Russia is moving from the authoritarian Putin system to some kind of post-modern totalitarian system in Russia," he said.

"That [system] would be kind of a linkage with the Soviet regime and even partly to the Stalin regime. So it is a very dangerous development," added Yavlinsky, a three-time former presidential candidate who now leads the Yabloko political party.

Memorial's own human rights wing lists more than 400 political prisoners. At the same time, independent groups and media are increasingly listed as "foreign agents."

Founded in 1989, Memorial became a symbol of a country opening up as Russia began examining the darkest chapters of its authoritarian past.

Activist sentenced

However, trial observers say that decades later, the government has turned back on itself under President Vladimir Putin, rejecting criticism – even of history – as "a hostile act."

In recent days, Russia also extended the prison term to an activist who investigated Stalin-era repression for 15 years on what he says are trumped-up charges.

The 65-year-old Yuri Dmitriyev, rose to prominence after uncovering mass graves of victims of repressions under Soviet leader Joseph Stalinist.

He was detained on charges of sexually abusing his adopted daughter, which rights activists dismissed as fabricated and politically motivated.

The reported crackdown comes amid the 30-the anniversary of the collapse of the Russia-dominated Soviet Union, which President Putin called "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe."

29 December 2021, 17:14