MOSCOW: Russia’s oldest human rights organisation, the Moscow Helsinki Group, was liquidated today after a court ruled it did not have the correct registration, the latest in a series of closures that critics say is reminiscent of the Soviet era.
Founded in 1976 by Soviet dissident scientists, the group produced annual reports on Russia’s human rights situation and was one of the country’s few remaining independent rights organisations after the closure of Nobel Prize-winner Memorial in 2021.
Its original aim was to monitor the Soviet Union’s compliance with the Helsinki Accords, an east-west agreement aimed at easing tensions at the height of the Cold War, but it later expanded to advocate democracy and civil rights.
Russia’s justice ministry filed a lawsuit against it in December, arguing that the group was only registered to defend human rights in Moscow – not other parts of the country – an argument that the group called nonsensical.
In an emotional plea to the court today, co-chair of the group Valery Borshov told the judge and representatives from the justice ministry that liquidating the group would put an end to decades of work by activists.
“You are committing a great sin. You are destroying the human rights movement, you are destroying it,” he said.
“The liquidation of the group is a serious blow to the human rights movement not only in Russia but also the world,” he added.
Reading out the decision, judge Mikhail Kazakov said: “The (justice ministry’s) claim is granted.”
Since sending tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine last February, President Vladimir Putin has accelerated Russia’s drive to suppress dissenting views, whether from independent media, non-governmental rights groups or political opponents.
Putin has his own human rights council, a body that critics say has enabled him to pay lip service to civic freedoms while ramping up state oppression.
Last November, shortly before his annual meeting with the council, he removed 10 of its members and brought in four new ones including a pro-war blogger-correspondent.