Russian court rejects bid to shut Memorial human rights group

MOSCOW: Russia’s Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed the government’s bid to shut down a leading human rights group, a rare victory for harried civil society in the country.

Judge Alla Nazarova rejected a lawsuit from Russia’s justice ministry to dissolve the Memorial group — which rose to prominence exposing Soviet-era repression — that claimed the group had violated its charter.

Memorial, which has a vast network of offices in the country, said that the move was part of an official clampdown.

The justice ministry had argued that Memorial’s charter did not correspond to the work it does and that it had committed a range of other infractions, such as misreporting financing from abroad.

The ministry said in a statement after the ruling that Memorial has rectified all the violations and so the case against it was closed.

Representatives from Memorial — which also works on human rights issues across Russia, including the volatile Caucasus region — welcomed the decision but warned that authorities were still trying to curb the work of NGOs.

“It is good that common sense won out,” senior Memorial member Yan Rachinsky said in court. “But it is difficult to accept it as full victory for our organisation.”

Another board member Oleg Orlov put the decision down to a strong public campaign of support for the organisation but cautioned that “the overall situation with Russian civil society is awful.”

Memorial began work during the final years of the Soviet Union chronicling Stalin’s purges and commemorating victims, including those of mass executions in the 1930s.

The targeting of Memorial follows a raft of measures phased in since President Vladimir Putin’s election in 2012 to a third historic term that made life practically unbearable for many non-governmental groups.

Memorial said the move to close it down was a symbolic final push by the Kremlin against Russia’s civil society — an attempt to impose top-down control of public life and drown out critical voices.

The lawsuit had come after two years of harassment and growing pressure on the organisation in the form of smear publications and even vandalism of the group’s headquarters in Moscow.

Memorial is currently fighting a separate battle against an official move to label it a “foreign agent” under a controversial law targeting NGOs that receive funding from abroad.