Authorities Bid to Shut Down Society Memorial Fails

Russia’s Supreme Court has dismissed the Justice Ministry’s petition to shut down the Russian Historical, Educational, Human Rights and Charitable Society Memorial (Society Memorial), one of Russia’s leading civil society organisations. In what is seen as a small triumph for freedom of association and civil society, Civil Rights Defenders welcomes the decision and hopes the courts will use this as a precedent for other cases.

According to the Justice Ministry petition Society Memorial’s statutes breached Russian law. Society Memorial argued that the organisation had amended its statutes in November 2014 and on January 29 the Supreme Court agreed.

“Society Memorial has through a strong public campaign demonstrated that persistence can bear fruit even though the overall situation remains dire for human rights defenders in Russia,” said Roemer Lemaitre, Programme Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Civil Rights Defenders.

However, the Justice Ministry declined to approve the amendments to the statute of International Memorial, an organisation that bring together human rights and historical organisations across Russia and elsewhere in the world, leaving concerns regarding the vulnerability of the legal status of the organisation.

At the same time the Memorial Human Rights Center, which belongs to the umbrella of Society Memorial, is fighting a separate legal battle in the courts against the Justice Ministry’s decision to enter them in the registry of “foreign agents”. Under this controversial law that came into effect in 2012 NGOs that engage in political activities and receive foreign funding, can face heavy fines and/or closure and the chairperson can ultimately be jailed for up to 2 years.