Russia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the closure of Memorial, the country’s oldest human rights group, after prosecutors accused the organization of not properly labeling itself a “foreign agent” and suggested it portrayed the Soviet Union too negatively.
memorial, which some have called “Russian conscience.”, has been working since 1989 to document and preserve the memory of Soviet-era crimes, from the mass executions of the 1930s to the many millions of people who went through the Gulag forced labor camp system.
The group, which includes Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, was accused last month by state prosecutors of violating a law requiring it to label its publications and online posts as produced by a foreign agent.
The government said the law protects the country from covert foreign influence. Many NGOs, media outlets and journalists now have to put up a label on each of their tweets and posts. Memorial, who was branded as a foreign agent in 2016, denied that he did not label his materials correctly.
Several court hearings over the past month have sparked public outrage, with some accusing the government of advocating the dissolution of the Memorial in an attempt to rewrite the history of the Soviet Union and present it in a different light.
During a hearing in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, state prosecutor Aleksei Zhafyarov accused the civil rights group of being too negative about the past and suggested doing so on the orders of foreign donors.
“The memorial creates a false image of the Soviet Union as a terrorist state,” Zhafyarov said ahead of Tuesday’s verdict, in comments quoted by Novaya Gazeta from the courtroom.
“It makes us repent for the Soviet past, instead of remembering the glorious history,” Zhafyarov said. He did it “probably because someone pays for it,” Zhafyarov added. “That’s the real reason Memorial is actively trying to separate itself from its foreign agent status.”
Memorial said that despite the closure verdict, he would try to continue his work, which includes extensive archival research on the activities of security services during the Soviet era, including the KGB, where President Vladimir Putin once worked.
Putin also said the Memorial supports extremist groups. It is a charge also raised by authorities against the Memorial Human Rights Center, an affiliated group that focuses on documenting contemporary abuse and maintains a list of political prisoners. He also faces liquidation in a parallel trial at a Moscow court on Wednesday.
“We are speechless at the moment,” the Memorial Human Rights Center wrote on its channel in the messenger app Telegram after the Supreme Court’s decision was announced Tuesday. “The show is over and we are all sick,” he added, as protesters chanted in front of the courtroom: “Shame! Shame!”
Memorial’s lawyers said they would appeal the Supreme Court’s decision.