National Security

Russia Seeks to Dissolve Soviet-Era Human Rights Group

Vladimir Putin / AP

Russia’s government is seeking to shut down one of the country’s oldest human rights organizations that has was founded to uncover the abuses of the former Soviet Union, the Washington Post reports.

Russia’s Justice Ministry filed a suit against the Russian Memorial Society, a group established during the latter years of the Soviet Union that has sought to declassify information about Soviet-era political prisoners and provide compensation to them:

The move against Memorial, which has worked to commemorate the worst excesses of Soviet persecution, comes as echoes of Soviet life have reentered Russian society. State-run television frequently boasts of the power of Russia’s nuclear weaponry. Some of Putin’s political opponents have been confined to house arrest, and others have fled the country. And Putin’s most powerful security advisers have said that the country needs to draw inward economically to build its strength and lessen its dependence on the West — steps that recall the Soviet bloc’s centralized, state-planned economy.

Russian civil society organizations have been targeted and harassed since Putin retook the presidency in spring 2012 and swiftly took steps to crack down on opposition, and some have been forced to shut down. Memorial also criticizes what it sees as contemporary human rights abuses, and in recent months it has condemned Russia’s role in the conflict in Ukraine, where a bloody battle has ensued after pro-Russian rebels seized territory in the east.

The Justice Ministry lawsuit targets Memorial over technical issues related to its legal registration. The legal action was filed Sept. 24 but was first publicized late last week. Russia’s Supreme Court will hear the case Nov. 13. A spokesman for the Justice Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Under Russia’s "foreign agent" law, groups that accept foreign money and participate in political activities must register with the government—a requirement that often leads to their dissolution. The U.S. Agency for International Development shuttered its Russian program in September 2012 after pressure from the Kremlin.