The Moscow City Court liquidated the Memorial Human Rights Center, which the Russian authorities recognized as a foreign agent. The claim of the metropolitan prosecutor’s office was satisfied. It was hard to expect anything else after the previous day the Supreme Court satisfied a similar claim by the Prosecutor General’s Office to liquidate another foreign agent – International Memorial. Both decisions will be appealed.
The two lawsuits filed in early November with an interval of one day against the oldest Russian human rights organizations, the Moscow City Court and the Supreme Court began to consider a month ago. But then they slowed down, moving the discussion on the merits to “after December 9”, when the traditional annual meeting of President Putin with members of his Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights was scheduled – apparently, so as not to aggravate the already tense background for communication and not to kill early hope.
The topic of Memorials was also discussed at this meeting, but the president did not say anything concrete. And after the Armed Forces liquidated the International Memorial on December 28, it was the turn of the Human Rights Center of the same name.
Shouts of “Shame!” On December 29, the verdict of judge Mikhail Kazakov was met by people gathered on the street near the building of the Moscow City Court. Due to inadequate restrictions, only representatives of the parties were allowed into the conference room.
In essence, the case began to be considered back on December 23, at the same time, after many hours of disputes, the arguments of the plaintiffs and defenders of the organization entered in the register of “foreign agents” became known several years ago. The prosecutor’s office believes that Memorial “systematically concealed information about the performance of the function of a foreign agent,” that is, it did not label or did not properly label its products.
“Due to the fact that you do not indicate that you are a foreign agent, a citizen cannot approach this article critically. This can lead to various consequences, it can cause a depressive state among citizens, too, ”the prosecutor said at the time. From his words it followed that if the material about the victims of Stalinist repressions, for example, does not indicate that its author is an “agent”, the Russian can believe what he has written, and, God forbid, he will be upset. But if he reads that before him the handiwork of the “agent” – there will be no trust in the content of the material …
Another reason for liquidation, according to the prosecutor’s office, is “justification of terrorism and extremism.” The facts proving this are recognized as the inclusion in the list of Russian political prisoners maintained by the Human Rights Center, members of Islamist organizations recognized as terrorist in Russia, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses (recognized as extremist and banned in Russia) and Artpodgotovka (recognized as extremist and banned in Russia ). These lists even include persons convicted of espionage, the prosecutor noted. According to him, the very compilation of such lists is aimed at “forming a negative perception of the judicial system of the Russian Federation.”
And on December 29, speaking in the debate, the prosecutor also said that Memorial conducts its financial activities “opaquely”, hides the receipt of foreign funding, supports illegal protests and the FBK recognized as extremist in Russia, and in general “consistently disregards the laws, grossly violates the rights of citizens ”.
It is interesting that the prosecutor’s office did not find any real consequences of the above-mentioned actions of Memorial, but the very fact of their commission, in her opinion, creates a “threat of harm to public order and security.”
Memorial was defended by several lawyers and lawyers. The chairman of the council of the human rights center, Alexander Cherkasov, said that the real reason for the claim, as it became clear during the proceedings, was not the lack of marking on the materials of the center, “this is just a pretext, a pretext.” The main goal, he said, is “to deprive citizens of access to information.” The ban on an organization that has worked in Russia since 1989 “will confirm that political persecution is one of the systemic factors” of Russian politics. By closing human rights organizations, the state, according to Cherkasov, is trying to “break the red flashing light that signals that something is wrong, and not solve the problem itself.”
Lawyer Grigory Vaipan recalled Soviet dissidents, who were also persecuted for lists of political prisoners and criticism of Soviet courts, and Russia later recognized this as “political repression.” Memorial, when compiling its lists of political prisoners, always specifically stipulated that the inclusion of certain names in them does not mean that the center agrees with their position and approves of their activities – this only means that, in the opinion of human rights defenders, people have been convicted for political reasons, said the defenders of the Center.
The representative of the Ministry of Justice (this department keeps a register of non-profit organizations-foreign agents, monitors their compliance with the requirements of the law, and supported the prosecutor’s claim) refused to participate in the debate.
After the end of the session, which lasted for about three hours, lawyer Mikhail Biryukov told reporters that the court’s decision would be necessarily appealed: according to him, the defense had not heard exactly what rights and legitimate interests of citizens the human rights center had violated. Violations of the labeling rules, which the NPO corrected after their discovery, are not proportionate to the decision to liquidate, Mr. Biryukov said. And Yan Rachinsky, a member of the Council of the Human Rights Center, promised to sue right up to the ECHR, where Memorial’s complaint about the Russian law on foreign agents is pending.
Since 2012, it has been waiting, by the way.