Czech Foreign Ministry Condemns Russian Decision to Shut Down Rights Group

Supporters of Russian NGO Memorial International stand outside Russia’s Supreme Court on December 28, 2021 | Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images

The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday said it condemned a Russian court decision to shut down the country’s oldest human rights group, Memorial International, and is following with concern Russia’s ongoing efforts to close sister organization Memorial Human Rights Center.

“We urge Russian authorities to end their harassment of independent voices and human rights defenders and stand in solidarity with those who have been targeted for repression for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly”.

Memorial has highlighted repressions against civil society and the absence of an independent judiciary in the Russian Federation, as well as exposing the murders of millions of Soviet citizens and foreigners, including several thousand Czechs, the statement says.

The decision triggers the closure of “Memorial International Historical, Educational, Charitable, and Human Rights Society, its regional branches and other structural units,” said Judge Alla Nazarova, according to the Interfax news agency.

Founded in the late 1980s by Andrei Sakharov and other Soviet-era dissidents, the group took the new freedoms offered under Mikhail Gorbachev and used them to reveal raw truths about the fate of millions of victims of Stalin’s repressions.

It was a poignant symbol of Russia’s new openness, but for many, the meaning was anything but abstract: Russians discovered the tragic fates of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents after decades of secrecy and official cowardice.

Memorial’s closure is also a potent symbol – one of Russian civil society being dismantled at lightning speed. Its leadership had hoped that public support, including from prominent Russians such as Gorbachev, would stay the Kremlin’s hand. Or that closing down an organisation dedicated to uncovering Soviet atrocities would be a step too far, even for Vladimir Putin.

Memorial said it would appeal the verdict.

“We are positive that this motion is unlawful. Yet, this is a political decision,” Henri Reznik, a lawyer for the NGO, told Interfax.

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