A Russian court has ordered the closure of the Memorial Human Rights Centre (MHRC), a day after the supreme court revoked the legal status of its sister organisation, Memorial International.
Moscow city court authorised the dissolution of the group – one of Russia’s most venerated human rights institutions – for the “justification of extremism and terrorism” by religious groups including Jehovah’s Witnesses officially considered “extremist” in Russia.
MHRC has said it plans to appeal against the decision in the European court of human rights.
On Wednesday evening, Memorial International published a letter from the European court ordering Russia to suspend its decision to dissolve MHRC and Memorial International, pending a legal review of Russia’s “foreign agent” legislation. Russia’s response to the decision, which it is treaty-bound to enforce, is not yet clear.
The head of MHRC, Alexander Cherkasov, said he believed the decision to liquidate it was politically motivated and that the Russian government was acting to suppress civil rights. The group had also named Alexei Navalny, an opposition leader, as a political prisoner. His nationwide organisation was declared extremist earlier this year.
On Tuesday, Russia’s supreme court dissolved Memorial International, founded by dissidents in the 1980s to research the Stalin-era repressions of millions of Soviet citizens.
The court orders conclude a year in which there has been an unprecedented assault on civil liberties in Russia, as opposition activists have been jailed or driven into exile, while dozens of media outlets and NGOs have been declared foreign agents or liquidated outright.
Memorial International said in a statement it would “find legal ways to continue our work”, which include researching and popularising information about Soviet atrocities.
“Memorial is not just an organisation, nor just a social movement,” the statement said. “Memorial is the demand of Russian citizens for the truth of its tragic past, about the fates of many millions of people. And this demand cannot be ‘liquidated’ by anyone.”
The Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatović, called the ruling a “deplorable move that will have significant negative consequences for human rights protection in Russia”. She also criticised Russia’s “foreign agents” law for having a “repressive character”.
European governments have also criticised Russia’s attempt to close down its oldest human rights organisations. The UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said Memorial’s closure was “another chilling blow to freedom of expression in Russia” and that she was “deeply concerned”.
A spokesperson for the UN human rights office told AFP that Memorial’s forced closure and the actions of the court “further weaken the country’s dwindling human rights community”.