“The Country is on the Verge of a Historic Catastrophe”: Over 100 Russian Public Figures Voice Support for the Memorial Rights Group
Over 100 Russian human rights activists and artists, as well as 60 members of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) have signed the appeal in support of the Memorial Rights Group. Among signatories are writers Dmitry Bykov, Viktor Shenderovich and Lyudmila Ulitskaya, actress Liya Akhedzhakova, rights activists Andrei Babushkin, Nikolai Svanidze and Natalia Yevdokimova, politicians Lev Shlosberg, Grigory Yavlinsky, Dmitry Gudkov, Ilya Yashin, Andrei Nechaev and many others.
The petition stresses the importance of continuing the human rights association’s mission of preserving the memory of victims of the USSR repressions:
We, the creators and staff of educational projects, book publishers and editors, protest the persecution of the Memorial Society, the oldest non-governmental organization in Russia today.
Since 1989, Memorial has investigated the history of state terror in the twentieth-century Russia and commemorated its victims. Memorial is a museum, archive, and library; it hosts discussions, lectures, exhibitions, and books; and organizes the annual “Return of Names” campaign. Memorial is the repository of the historical memory of our society, the foundation for its healthy development and its future”— a November 15 statement signed by activists and scholars said.
“Today this future is in danger. Persecution of political opposition, civic organizations and independent journalists has become the norm. New Russian laws are at odds with civilized understandings of the law. The rector of one of Russia’s best universities has been imprisoned on manufatured charges… We demand the release of political prisoners and the repeal of unlawful repressive laws. Our country is in trouble, and we must unite to protect its future”, it added.
On November 15, the Kremlin’s top spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not comment directly the case of Memorial, but opined that Memorial “has been having problems for a long time in terms of following Russian laws.”
In the first four days since its launch, nearly 25,000 Russians have signed the online petition called “Hands Off Memorial!”. Over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the moves to close Memorial and demanded Russian authorities stop using the illegal Foreign Agent law to persecute and intimidate the organization.
On November 11, 2021, Russian human rights group Memorial received a notice from the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. According to it, the Office of the Russian Prosecutor General has requested the Supreme Court to shut down the international branch of the country’s most prominent and respected human rights group for failure to comply with requirements of the illegal law on “foreign agents” (in particular, its requirements for labeling).
Putin’s government uses the new “foreign agents” designation to target whom it perceives as foreign-funded organizations engaged in political activity and affiliated persons.
The post on the website of the Supreme Court states that the Prosecutor’s Office also demands the liquidation of the organization’s subdivisions — a human rights center, an archive, a library and a museum.
A court hearing is scheduled for November 25, 2021.
Memorial itself has characterized the General Prosecutor’s order as “a political decision to destroy civil society” focused on “the history of political repression and the defense of human rights.” The group believes there are no legal grounds for liquidating the organization.
“We have repeatedly stated that the law was originally conceived as a tool to crack down on independent organizations, and insisted that it should be abolished,” Memorial said in a statement. “The decision to abolish International Memorial is politically motivated. It aims to destroy the organization which deals with the political repressions of the past and fights for human rights today.”
Late last month, Memorial said that the number of political prisoners in Russia has risen sharply in recent years. It listed more than 400 political prisoners, including top Kremlin critic and opposition leader Alexey Navalny who survived a poisoning attempt with Novichok nerve agent last year.
Recently Russia declared the rights group “Russian LGBT Network” a “foreign agent,” along with lawyer Ivan Pavlov and “Team 29” Lawyers’ Association.
Memorial was established in the late 1980s during the “perestroika” reforms of the USSR. Between 1987 and 1990, while the USSR was still in existence, 23 branches of the society were set up and became active. When the Soviet Union collapsed, branches of Memorial in east and south Ukraine remained affiliated to the Russian network.
By 2018, Memorial had more than 60 branches and affiliated organizations scattered across Russia, with a quarter of them established in 2014 or later.
The branches advance the same mission of upholding human rights, documenting the past, and marking Days of Remembrance for the victims of political repression. Over the past twenty years Memorial has built up an online database of the victims of political repression in the USSR. Its fifth version contained over three million names and yet it was estimated that 75% of the victims had not yet been identified and recorded. International Memorial was added to the “foreign agents” registry in October 2016.