Putin's Regime Closes Top Rights Group

Russia’s Supreme Court ordered Memorial, the country’s oldest human rights group, to disband on Tuesday.

The closure of Memorial International bookmarks a year in which Mr. Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s top critic, was jailed, his movement banned and many of his allies forced to flee. Moscow says it is simply enforcing laws to thwart extremism and shield the country from what it says is malign foreign influence.

Mr. Putin, in power as president or prime minister since 1999, is turning back the clock to the Soviet era when there was zero tolerance of dissent.

The legal assault on Memorial, which documents and keeps alive the memory of Josef Stalin’s 1937-38 “Great Terror” among other episodes, is an attempt to whitewash Soviet Russia’s darkest chapters which do not chime with the Kremlin’s narrative of a resurgent country with nothing to be ashamed of, they say.

“Memorial is a special organisation with its own ideology. We combine what’s called relevant human rights activities with historical studies and comprehending the historical path of Russia in the 20th century. It seems that such a union does not please someone in the Russian leadership,” Oleg Orlov, a Memorial board member, said outside the court.

A state prosecutor told the court that Memorial had promoted what he called a false image of the USSR as “a terrorist state” and blackened the memory of the communist state’s behaviour during World War Two. He said “someone” was paying Memorial for such treachery.

Memorial is open about the fact that it receives funding from abroad, one of the main reasons the authorities have labelled it a foreign agent. Its website lists funding from Poland, Germany, Canada and the Czech Republic.

Under Putin modern school text books have praised Stalin’s role as a moderniser and as the man who helped the Soviet Union defeat the Nazis in World War Two, one of the cornerstones of the image which Putin has tried to forge for modern Russia.

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