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Monument: We are almost helpless in Russia

TT is reaching Alexander Cherkasov, head of the Memorial Human Rights Centre, by phone from Moscow, ahead of Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision to suspend one of the two Memorial organizations. On Wednesday, another Moscow court ruled to dissolve the other organisation, the Human Rights Memorial Center.

As an argument in both cases, Memorial is reported to have not appeared in its public communications that it has been designated as a “foreign agent” – legislation used to put an end to, among other things, human rights organizations. He also accused Memorial of “justifying terrorism.”

Representatives of the “monument” dismissed the accusations as politically motivated, and say they should take the matter further – first to the Russian Constitutional Court and then to the European Court.

Cherkasov says the state and judiciary should be pleased with the work the memorial is doing.

The state should be grateful for that. Prosecuting authorities should thank us for every individual case we document regarding political prisoners, because we are doing the work the authorities should have done. But instead they want to shut us down, Cherkasov says.

turn off the legs

The memorial was established in 1989 with the aim of preserving the memory of the victims of political repression in the Soviet Union, and over the years action against repression has become on a broader front.

The lawsuit against Memorial is two cases in a series of crackdowns on human rights organizations, independent media, opposition groups and individuals. In recent years, political repression has gradually escalated in Russia. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

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Memorial identified the number of political prisoners in Russia and noted that it is a record number. Last Monday, a court extended the prison sentence of Yuri Dmitriev, the historian and memorial staffer, who is best known for discovering and mapping Stalin-era mass graves. It was alleged that Dmitriev abused the children.

Two days earlier, the human rights website OVD-Info, which documents political persecution and arbitrary deprivation of liberty, was blocked.

“It is clear that we have no place in the worldview that the Russian system is constructing,” Cherkasov told TTT.

Long live the memory with the families

The struggle for freedom and democracy in Russia has always been closely linked to how regimes wanted to describe the country’s history. There, the memorial played a very important role in drawing attention to political oppression, both during the Soviet era and in the present. For several decades, the Soviet people were fed propaganda from the media and textbooks, among other things.

As for preserving the memory of political prisoners, called “enemies of the homeland”, they lived instead in families – but in silence. For a long time it was impossible to talk about family members imprisoned for political reasons. Fearing reprisals, they also did not dare to keep in touch with people. Their faces were repainted in photo albums, and little, if any, was known about their fate.

When democratic reforms began to be implemented in the late 1980s, interest in history increased. The memorial was formed and began to map the tens of thousands of people who had been subjected to political repression. Help families find out what happened to their relatives.

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Today, the memorial fights for contemporary political prisoners and other vulnerable people, and has supported, for example, Navalny.

– We think that we are useful for Russia’s present and future, says Alexander Cherkasov.

Goes to the European Court of Justice

Memorial also helps victims of terrorism and torture to apply to the European Court of Justice, when the prospects for justice in Russian courts have been exhausted. So far, Memorial’s lawyers have won 140 cases in the European Court of Justice. It helped 361 victims in Russia obtain reparations.

– We are almost helpless here in Russia. But when the European Court of Justice rules a state guilty of killing one’s relatives, one feels that justice can be achieved by peaceful means, Cherkasov says.

Alexander Cherkasov, President of the Memorial Center for Human Rights. Photo: Memorial / TT

Outside court in Moscow on December 23, during one of the days of Memorial International's trial.

Outside court in Moscow on December 23, during one of the days of Memorial International’s trial. Photo: Alyssa Meltgen/Memorial/TT

Facts: Law “Foreign Agents”

The “Foreign Clients” law was introduced in 2012, and extended in 2017 to also include media organizations. Media companies that have acquired the stamp must mention it in all of their publications, including on the Internet. It is also subject to more stringent accounting requirements.

In order to be classified as a foreign agent, it is sufficient to receive a money order from abroad.

Individuals can also be classified as “foreign agents,” which means that everyone, including individuals, must report transactions and payments to the authorities at least four times a year.

If the regulations are not complied with, companies risk fines of up to the equivalent of SEK 500,000. Sites can also be blocked in Russia.