Foreign ministry vows to stand by banned Russian rights group

A supporter of the International Historical Educational Charitable and Human Rights Society 'Memorial' (International Memorial) holds a poster that reads 'We are Memorial' outside the Russian Supreme Court during a hearing on the International Memorial case in Moscow. YURI KOCHETKOV

Poland's president and foreign ministry have criticised the Russian top court's decision to close down "Memorial", Russia's eminent human rights group, and have vowed to stand by the activists.

Russia's top court upheld a motion by the prosecutor general to liquidate the 'Memorial' association, which was set up in the 1980s during the period of Russia's 'glasnost' reforms. It originally documented Stalinist-era crimes and went on to become Russia's most prominent human rights group.

The court ruled that 'Memorial' had breached rules on the registration of foreign agents. Prosecutors also said the association created a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state and attributed a favourable history to Nazi criminals.

President Andrzej Duda wrote on Twitter on Tuesday: "Poland is grateful to the 'Memorial' organisation, which over the years has contributed to revealing the truth about Soviet crimes against many peoples, including Poles."

He pointed out that 'Memorial', for good reason, has been referred to as the 'conscience of Russia' and added that "conscience cannot be smothered or outlawed."

Poland's foreign ministry has also condemned the ruling. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemns the Russian Supreme Court's Tuesday decision ordering the closure of the 'Memorial' association human rights group," the ministry's spokesman Lukasz Jasina told PAP, adding that Poland would never abandon "the wonderful people of 'Memorial'."

Jasina said the foreign ministry condemned the verdict and supported 'Memorial'. "Poland will never abandon those wonderful people," he told PAP.

The Russian court ordered the closure of 'Memorial', its regional branches and "other organisational structures." The prosecutor general had alleged that 'Memorial' was a front for foreign agents.

'Memorial' lawyer Maria Eismont said the organisation would appeal the ruling, which she described as illegal and unfounded, Russia's TASS news agency reported. Memorial Board Chairman Jan Raczynski said the ruling would be appealed both in Russia and at the European Court of Human Rights.

The organisation was listed by Russian authorities as a "foreign agent" in 2016, and its human rights defence centre in 2014.