Russia postpones final hearing on shutdown of top rights NGO

13th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Thursday postponed a final hearing on dissolving the country's most prominent rights group that chronicles Stalin-era repressions and defends activists, a case condemned by supporters as part of a crackdown on civil society.

A final hearing opened at Russia's Supreme Court, only for the judge to tell the court he was postponing it until November 17, the state RIA Novosti news agency reported.

The judge was responding to requests from both sides to hold off the hearing which could lead to the closure of one of Russia's oldest and most respected NGOs.

Memorial, a 25-year-old group that has investigated everything from the Stalin-era Gulag to government death squads in Chechnya, will have to close down its main umbrella organisation if the justice ministry wins the case.

Memorial has built up a massive grassroots network that has defended Russians including Muslims in the restive Caucasus region and anti-Vladimir Putin demonstrators in Moscow.

It also publishes an annual list of those it considers political prisoners, while Russia says it has none.

Its first chairman was Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, who founded it with other prominent dissidents, many of whom had themselves spent time in prison for their political views.

It now appears to have exhausted the Kremlin's tolerance for dissent.

According to the justice ministry, Memorial needs to be liquidated because its charter does not represent the true nature of its activities.

It is also accused of violations such as misreporting funding from abroad.

Memorial says the charges are groundless and an "insult" to its work.

It believes it is being made an example of in a symbolic push against civil society, as a warning to other NGOs that they could suffer a similar fate.

The high-profile case comes as rights groups say they have come under increasing pressure to curb political activities since Putin returned for a third Kremlin term in 2012.

Memorial was among the groups to fall under a controversial law that requires NGOs with foreign funding and activities perceived as political to label themselves "foreign agents," a term carrying connotations of espionage.

© 2014 AFP

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