Posts Tagged ‘Memorial Human Rights Centre’

Russia’s Supreme Court orders closure emblematic Memorial

December 29, 2021

As feared in November (see blog post below) Russia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday 28 December 2021 ordered the closure of Memorial International, one of the country’s most respected human rights organizations, wiping out three decades of work to expose the abuses and atrocities of the Stalinist era. Memorial is the winner of at least 7 international human rights awards: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/BD12D9CE-37AA-7A35-9A32-F37A0EA8C407

The court ruled that Memorial International had fallen afoul of Russia’s “foreign agent” law. But the group said the real reason for the shutdown was that authorities did not approve of its work.

The ruling is the latest blow to Russia’s hollowed-out civil society organizations, which have gradually fallen victim to Putin’s authoritarian regime.

Videos posted on social media showed Memorial supporters shouting, “Shame, shame!” in the court’s hallways and at the entrance to the building shortly after the ruling. Seven people were detained outside the courthouse following the proceedings, according to independent monitoring group OVD-Info. The organization said three of them are believed to be instigators whose sole aim was to cause havoc, not support Memorial.

Memorial International’s lawyer, Tatiana Glushkova, confirmed the ruling to CNN and said the group would appeal the decision. “The real reason for Memorial’s closure is that the prosecutor’s office doesn’t like Memorial’s work rehabilitating the victims of Soviet terror,” Glushkova told CNN.

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia requested Memorial International be liquidated in November. The group was accused of repeatedly breaking the law for failing to mark all its publications with a compulsory “foreign agent” warning. The Justice Ministry had designated the group a foreign agent in 2016, using a law targeting organizations receiving international funding.

Memorial’s representatives argued there were no legal grounds for the group’s closure, and critics say the Russian government targeted Memorial for political reasons.

Oleg Orlov, a member of Memorial International’s board, said the court’s decision was “purely ideological” and “a demonstrative, blatant, illegal decision.”

“Allegedly, we do not assess the Soviet Union and Soviet history the right way. But this is our assessment, we have the right to do it,” Orlov told CNN.

Memorial was founded in the late 1980s to document political repressions carried out under the Soviet Union, building a database of victims of the Great Terror and gulag camps. The Memorial Human Rights Centre, a sister organisation that campaigns for the rights of political prisoners and other causes, is also facing liquidation for “justifying terrorism and extremism”. One of the group’s co-founders was Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, who went on to be the first honorary chairman of the Memorial Society.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/28/russian-court-memorial-human-rights-group-closure

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/-erasing-history—russia-closes-top-rights-group–capping-year-of-crackdowns/47222634

Human right defender Sergei Kovalev died

August 19, 2021

One of Russia’s most famous human rights defenders and former Soviet dissident, Sergei Kovalev, died aged 91 on Monday 9 August 2021 his family said. He won 9 international human rights awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/7B15D0E9-FDB2-4727-B94F-AA261BDB92D9

Kovalev was a biologist who became one of the leading members of the USSR’s pro-democracy movement. He was held for years in Soviet labour camps for his activism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he became a fierce critic of Moscow’s war in Chechnya and warned against democratic backsliding when President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.

His son Ivan Kovalev said on Facebook that his father died “in his sleep” in the early hours of Monday morning.

Russian rights group Memorial, which Kovalev co-founded, said he was “faithful to the idea of human rights always and in everything — in war and peace, in politics and every day life”.

The leading rights organisation — which has been labelled a “foreign agent” by Russian authorities under a controversial law — said Kovalev had campaigned for human rights since the 1960s. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/04/26/russia-pursues-its-policy-of-labeling-human-rights-defenders-as-foreign-agents/

As a biology student, Kovalev had dreamed of devoting himself exclusively to science.

But he changed his mind after the arrests of dissident writers Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky.

“I then understood that it was not possible to only be in science,” he said. “It would have been shameful.”

In 1968, Kovalev was fired from his job at a Moscow university laboratory for joining the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR — considered to be the Soviet Union’s first rights group.

He then grew close to the dissident academic Andrei Sakharov.

Kovalev was part of a group of dissidents writing the “Chronicle of Current Events”, an underground typed bulletin that reported on human rights violations in the USSR.

It reported the arrests and psychiatric internments of the Soviet regime’s opponents and on the situation in its labour camps.

He was arrested in 1974, accused of spreading “anti-Soviet propaganda” and sentenced to seven years in a Gulag camp, followed by three years of house arrest in the icy Siberian region of Kolyma.

He was only allowed to return to Moscow in 1987, thanks to the perestroika reforms launched by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

He went on to help found Memorial, which recorded testimonies of Soviet political repression.

Kovalev was one of the few Soviet dissidents that entered post-USSR politics.

He contributed to writing Russia’s new constitution and was elected a parliamentary deputy twice.

In 1994, he was appointed as chairman of President Boris Yeltsin’s human rights commission in 1994. But he was forced to give up the post two years later for his outspoken criticism of Russia’s brutal intervention in the Chechen conflict.

Kovalev also criticised the political system created by Putin, from the beginning of the former KGB spy’s long rule. “A controlled democracy is being created in our country that seeks to create problems for ‘enemies inside as well as outside’,” he said in 2001, a year after Putin was inaugurated as president.

In 2014, he called on Western countries to “stop Russian expansion” into Ukraine after Moscow annexed Kiev’s Crimea peninsula.

According to Kovalev, the West had made “too many concessions” to Russia.

He also criticised Russian opposition leaders, whom he accused of being pragmatists without strong moral convictions. “I belong to the camp of idealists in politics,” he said.

https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210809-soviet-dissident-sergei-kovalev-dies

https://today.rtl.lu/news/world/a/1768110.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/09/human-rights-watch-mourns-death-sergei-kovalev

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/09/sergei-kovalev-soviet-dissident-who-clashed-with-yeltsin-putin-dies-aged-91

Chechen human rights defender Oyub Titiev arrested on trumped-up charges

January 15, 2018
 
The arrest of Oyub Titiev has provoked international outcry. Source: Memorial Human Rights Center.

This blog has paid attention to many cases of harassment of human rights defenders in Chechnya, especially since two of the laureates of the MEA were linked to work there (the Joint Mobile Group (https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/17/russia-defenders-attack-closing-office-un-joint-mobile-group-chechnya/) in 2013 and earlier Lyda Yusopova in 2004 http://www.martinennalsaward.org/hrd/lidia-yusupova/]. But things continue to be extremely difficult, as shown by case of Oyub Titiev, who heads the regional office of the Memorial, and was arrested last week. Open Democracy (on 12 January 2018) in partnership with OVD-Info, wrote about this and other politically-motivated arrests in Russia (see below in green). Front Line (12 January 2018), Amnesty International, the Council of Europe, US State Department, IFEX and others spoke out on the case.

On the morning of 9 January, Oyub Titiev (60) was detained by people wearing the uniform of traffic police officers. A friend of the human rights defender who witnessed the arrest from his car, said he had wanted to stop to speak with Titiev, but Titiev indicated he should drive past. Titiev’s lawyers were not allowed to see him for several hours. That evening Titiev was charged with possessing drugs (Article 228). He categorically denies the accusation. On 10 January police arrived at Titiev’s home looking for his son and brother, and when they did not find them they forced all the other family members out of the house, locked the doors and took the keys. The law enforcement officers wanted to use the fact they had the keys to influence Titiev’s relatives, since to gain entrance to the property the family members would need to go to the police station. On 11 January a court in closed session remanded Titiev in custody for two months.

Titiev took up the post of head of the Chechnya office of Memorial after the kidnapping in Grozny and subsequent murder of his predecessor Natalia Estemirova in July 2009. The Chechen public figure Ruslan Kutaev, who heads  the Assembly of Peoples of the Caucasus, was also charged with illegal acquisition and possession of drugs. On 20 December 2017 he was released having served over three years in prison. There is evidence that Kutaev was tortured following his arrest. According to human rights defenders, the charges were trumped up.

The European Court of Human Rights is tired of hearing identical cases concerning torture in Russia, and has therefore asked Russia to pay compensation to Ildar Dadin on the basis of a simplified procedure. The European Court has proposed that Russia admit to violations of the prohibition on torture and inhuman treatment with regard to Ildar Dadin during the latter’s transfer to a prison colony and in the prison colony itself. The Court decided not to ask the Russian government for commentary.

In December 2015 activist Ildar Dadin was sentenced to three years in a general-regime prison colony for “repeated violation of the rules for holding public events” (Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). In 2014 Dadin had been arrested four times and fined for taking part in public protests. Later, his prison term was reduced to two-and-a-half years. On 22 February 2017 the Presidium of the Supreme Court quashed Dadin’s conviction.

Five members of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission (PMC) have been banned from visiting Pre-Trial Detention Centre No. 1 (Matrosskaya Tishina) and the so-called Kremlin Central, which is on the territory of Matrosskaya Tishina. According to the authorities, this is because the five members of the PMC are witnesses in the criminal prosecution of another member of the PMC, Denis Nabiullin…

https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/titiev

https://www.thedailybeast.com/frame-up-the-outrageous-arrest-of-a-chechen-human-rights-defender

https://news.trust.org/item/20180110165044-wbsm1

later followed: https://memohrc.org/en/news_old/speaking-grozny-tv-ramzan-kadyrov-revealed-real-reason-behind-arrest-human-rights-defender

Profile of Stephania Koulaeva, human rights defender in Russia

January 8, 2016

In December 2015 the ISHR published this profile of Russian human rights defender Stephania Koulaeva 

Stephania Koulaeva, a historian by education, explains the ever-expanding scope of her human rights work. Her interest was drawn to the memorial movement in Russia: ‘at first from a historical perspective, then from a human rights perspective.’ As a student, Stephania was involved in anti-fascist and anti-racist groups, primarily focused on the rights of the Roma minority, the most visible minority in Russia at the time. After new waves of migration began from Central Asia in the late nineties, Stephania expanded her work to issues surrounding migration. This then broadened further to include women’s rights, LGBTI rights, and she eventually became involved in the protection of human rights defenders. Her organisation, Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial (ADC Memorial) is the only organisation in Russia that combats discrimination on such a wide range of issues.

Unfortunately, shrinking space for civil society has consistently been a serious threat within Russia. ‘In the 1990s and early 2000s, neo-nazis attacked and occasionally murdered human rights defenders working on discrimination issues. At that time that was the primary danger; the main danger we face now is political oppression by the Government.’

Over the past few years – particularly since Vladimir Putin’s 2012 return to presidency – the Russian Government has cracked down on NGOs, often by accusing them of being ‘foreign agents’ due to their ‘political activity’. ADC Memorial was forced to choose between officially registering as a ‘foreign agent’ or closing down for submitting a report to the UN Committee against Torture in the lead up to Russia’s 2012 review by that body. As the label of ‘foreign agent’ would greatly restrict the work ADC Memorial was able to carry out, it made the difficult decision of closing the organisation down in 2014. Since then, ADC Memorial has been operating without official Russian registration.

The continued operation of ADC Memorial does not indicate an alleviation in the Government’s harsh approach to civil society, and in November of this year, prominent NGO Memorial Human Rights Centre was targeted in the same manner: ‘They received a letter from the prosecutor stating that they had violated the Constitution of the Russian Federation for fulfilling their work.’ Memorial Human Rights Centre had previously ‘criticised Russian aggression in the Ukraine’ and ‘disagreed with the arrest of certain civil activists’. It is most likely being threatened due to this ‘political action’. ‘This is a very dangerous step for the Government to take. They are now criminalising human rights activity; the situation is rapidly getting worse.’

Stephania has a positive outlook on her previous interactions with the UN, acknowledging that the UN has done their utmost to stop the criminalisation of human rights defenders. ‘We’re very grateful for all the support that we’ve received from various treaty body committees that we’ve worked with; they’ve all recognised the work of civil society and given meaningful recommendations in the framework of their mandate.’ However, the political reality of the UN’s influence is not always as effective. ‘It’s very difficult to oppose Russian politics, even at the level of the United Nations.’ Stephania is now looking outward to bring domestic change to Russia, as anti-discrimination laws now seem ‘unlikely – although pressure on the Government will continue.’ She hopes to find some success in international courts, citing potentially useful precedents at the European Court of Human Rights in cases regarding migrants and stateless people.

‘We can’t simply stay within our borders – it’s impossible to tackle issues solely within Russia without also looking at related issues in neighbouring countries.’

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/12-human-rights-defenders-who-are-not-on-the-slopes-of-sochi/

Source: Defender profile: Stephania Koulaeva working in Russia | ISHRISHR-logo-colour-high