Today, police and criminal investigators in Moscow raided the homes of nine staff and board members of Memorial, one of Russia’s leading human rights organizations and a co-recipient of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.
Among the homes raided was that of Oleg Orlov, co-chair of Memorial’s human rights center, whom authorities have criminally charged with “discrediting” Russia’s armed forces over his criticism of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Hundreds of other individuals are being criminally prosecuted under similar charges, while thousands face administrative charges over criticism of the war. Authorities also searched office spaces affiliated with Memorial.
This is just the latest move by authorities against Memorial: Earlier this month the prosecutor’s office opened a criminal case against unspecified Memorial members on “justification of Nazism” charges.
In December 2021, I sat in Russia’s Supreme Court when it issued the ruling “liquidating” Memorial, on grounds that it had repeatedly violated Russia’s toxic “foreign agents” law. The prosecutor’s speech went far beyond summing up arguments about these allegations.
Memorial’s mission is to restore and preserve historical memory about Stalin’s Great Terror, rehabilitate its victims, and protect and promote human rights. The prosecutor accused Memorial of distorting history, especially about World War II, and of creating a false image of the Soviet Union. He also chose to amplify the fact that Memorial had mistakenly included in its database of well over three million victims of Stalinist repression three alleged Nazi collaborators, an error Memorial publicly corrected once they were made aware of relevant evidence.
“Why are we, descendants of the victors, forced to witness impunity in the rehabilitation of traitors and Nazi collaborators?” he intoned. “Why … should we be ashamed and repent for our … past?”
It was chilling.
This was mere weeks before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in which the Kremlin falsely and grotesquely claims it is fighting “Nazis” in a 21st century reboot of World War II.
Russian authorities have already closed Memorial’s core organizations, and used milder pretexts to close some of Russia’s other prominent human rights groups. This month, the Justice Ministry used a flimsy bureaucratic pretext to seek liquidation of Sova, a human rights think tank that documents Russia’s abuse of its broad extremism and terrorism laws.
But with today’s raids on Memorial and interrogation of their staff, the authorities are making clear that once they close down an organization, they will carry on prosecuting activists who continue to speak out. They should drop the ludicrous “discrediting” charges against Orlov and the retaliatory “justification of Nazism” case, at once.