Clampdown on Civil Society Reaches New Levels in Russia

Recently state-controlled Russian channel, NTV featured a piece about Civil Rights Defenders’ long term partner Memorial suggesting that the organisation was supporting terrorists and radical groups in the North Caucasus. This is part of the authorities ongoing crack down against civil society. Under a controversial law adopted in 2012, NGOs that engage in political activities and receive any foreign funding, need to register as a ”foreign agent” with the Russian Ministry of Justice.

The feature followed an attempt by Memorial employees to visit two remote villages in Dagestan after the organisation had received reports about numerous human rights abuses inflicted on the local population by law enforcement agencies.

The same NTV feature further reported the fact that Memorial was also included in the official registry list of “foreign agents” in Russia which had actually occurred on July 21 when the Russian Ministry of Justice forcibly registered Memorial as a “Foreign Agent”. Memorial has appealed the decision of the Ministry of Justice, calling it another attempt by the authorities to impede and undermine the organisations human rights work with the full intent of weakening civil society. The appeal is currently pending.

Memorial stated that the NTV feature is defamatory and strongly condemned the content as being wholly fabricated. Civil Rights Defenders is deeply concerned over the continued harassment of Memorial.

The defamatory media feature followed on the heels of the Ministry of Justice’s request on  24 September to the Supreme Court to have the Russian Historical, Educational, Human Rights and Charitable Society Memorial (Society Memorial) liquidated for violating its own statutes. Society Memorial is the umbrella organisation for numerous Memorial sub organisations, one of which is Memorial. The request from the Ministry of Justice is unfounded and violates the right to freedom to association.

“The Russian authorities must immediately stop the continued harassment of Human Rights Centre Memorial and Society Memorial”, “The latest onslaught is a clear attempt to silence one of the key critical voices of the human rights movement in Russia” said Roemer Lemaitre, Programme Director of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Civil Rights Defenders.

Memorial is one of the most prominent human rights organisations in Russia and has been defending human rights and promoting the development of a vibrant civil society since the fall of the Soviet Union. The organisation has played a key role in advocating against impunity for law enforcement and the military for grave human rights violations in the North Caucasus.

Civil Rights Defenders has been partnered with Memorial for over a decade to monitor, investigate and advocate  the ongoing abuses in the North Caucasus which often include arbitrary detentions, torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Civil Rights Defenders named the Natalia Project, a security alarm system initiative to protect human rights defenders at risk, after Memorial’s staff member Natalia Estemirova who was kidnapped and murdered in Chechnya on 15 July 2009.