On December 28, 2021, Russia’s Supreme Court ordered the closure of Memorial International Society. One day later, the Moscow City Court decided to shut down the group’s Memorial Human Rights Centre. With these decisions, Russian authorities attempted to silence Memorial, the country's oldest human rights association.
The purported reason for the closing was Memorial’s alleged violations of the broad “foreign agent” law by not labeling all of its social media posts with a “foreign agent” disclaimer. This law, which requires certain non-governmental organizations operating in Russia receiving any part of their funding from abroad to register and declare themselves as "foreign agents," is widely seen as undermining human rights and fundamental freedoms-- a cudgel that can be used by Russian authorities against NGOs and information outlets to shut down their activities.
Memorial was founded in 1989. Rather than an organization with a centralized leadership, Memorial is more accurately described as a movement. It is a collection of over 50 organizations in Russia and 11 other countries. The Memorial International branch documents historical crimes and mass human rights violations committed in the Soviet Union. The Memorial Human Rights Centre focuses on the contemporary protection of human rights, including in conflict zones in and around post-Soviet Russia.
“We deplore the decisions by two Russian courts to forcibly close International Memorial and the Memorial Human Rights Center,” said the United States of America, Australia, Canada, the European Union, and the United Kingdom in a joint statement. “For more than three decades, Memorial has fulfilled a unique role in documenting historical crimes and recovering for posterity the memory of the tens of millions of victims of political repression in the country … The claim by Russian authorities that Memorial Human Rights Center’s principled and peaceful work “justifies extremism and terrorism” cannot be accepted. Memorial’s work has never been more needed.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a written statement condemned the Russian Supreme Court’s decision to close Memorial. “For three decades, International Memorial’s researchers have worked tirelessly to recover the names and stories of the millions of victims of Soviet repression, promoting historical justice,” he said. “The persecution of International Memorial and Memorial Human Rights Center is an affront to their noble missions and to the cause of human rights everywhere. The people of Russia – and the memory of the millions who suffered from Soviet-era repression – deserve better.”