Right Livelihood condemns Russia’s latest crackdown on Memorial International

Right Livelihood is appalled at the news that 2004 Right Livelihood Laureate Memorial International, Russia’s oldest and most prominent human rights group, could be shut down over alleged violation of the so-called “Foreign Agents law”. This appears as a politically motivated move by the Russian government to crack down on one of the most important independent voices in the country.

On November 11, 2021, Memorial International was informed that the Prosecutor General’s Office had filed a lawsuit to liquidate them for systematic violations of the “Foreign agents law.” Memorial Human Rights Center, a member organisation, on the other hand, was accused of “supporting terrorist” and “extremist” thoughts through its human rights work. The case of Memorial Human Rights Center is set to be heard on November 23, while Memorial International’s on November 25.

This is only the latest in a series of attacks against  Memorial and its member organisations, which have been repeatedly targeted in recent years in retaliation for their activities to promote democracy and human rights in Russia. On October 14, a film screening on the Stalin-era famine organised by Memorial had been violently disrupted by a group of 30 men. Instead of interrogating and arresting the perpetrators, Memorial’s offices were locked down and its staff was questioned for hours by the authorities.

In 2015, Memorial International and its branches were labelled as “Foreign Agents” by the Russian authorities, as an attempt to restrict their actions. Under the current legal framework, adopted in 2012 and revised in December 2020, any organisation labelled as “Foreign agent” has to make it public and mark all its publications as such, including on social media. “It is a law designed to restrict civil society space,” said Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of Right Livelihood. “Memorial International plays an essential role in ensuring that the darkest pages of the past are not forgotten and repeated. We are appalled by the legal action against them, which further undermines human rights in Russia. ”

The news also sparked reactions and words of support in the wider international community. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, expressed deep concern at the possible dismantling of these organisations, arguing that the “Foreign Agents law” does not comply with international human rights standards. The EU strongly condemned this move and underlined it is yet another case of using the law to “further shrink the space for independent activism”. Lastly, Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe said: “The news (…) is very regrettable. As the Council of Europe repeatedly indicated, this law stigmatises NGOs, media and individuals and has had a repressive impact on civil society in Russia over recent years.”

Right Livelihood will continue to stand by the efforts of Memorial International and all its member organisations and strongly condemns any attempt to silence them. We reiterate our call on Russia, as delivered to the Human Rights Council earlier this year, to bring the existing legislation in line with its international human rights obligations and cease all acts of harassment, intimidation and attacks directed towards civil society, the media and human rights defenders.

Memorial International and Human Rights Center Memorial are among the most important human rights organisations in Russia. Any action against them is a blow to the Russian civil society as a whole and its closure would represent a huge loss for all the Russian people.

Memorial International, which has over 60 branches across Russia, Ukraine, and Poland, was created in the late 80s with the central mission to ensure that the crimes committed by the Soviet regime and other totalitarian society, would not be forgotten by history. One of its key members, Human Rights Center Memorial, is at the forefront of protecting human rights in the country, including by providing legal assistance to political prisoners and monitoring arbitrary detention.