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Memorial Chairman Yan Rachinsky (file photo)

Russia's Investigative Committee has launched an investigation into the Memorial International human rights organization as the Kremlin widens its crackdown on civil society.

Yan Rachinsky, Memorial's chairman, confirmed on February 5 that he had been called in for questioning.

The Investigative Committee is looking into a complaint against Memorial filed in December by Veterans of Russia, which accuses it of trying to rehabilitate Nazi collaborators.

Memorial International, one of the country's oldest and most respected human rights organizations, has spent decades recording the Soviet government's imprisonment and killing of people on political grounds.

Its list of politically repressed Soviet citizens now exceeds 3 million.

Veterans of Russia claims that list includes 19 people who were Nazi collaborators.

While Memorial said that any database as large as its own "probably" has some mistakes, it largely rejected the claims.

It said 16 of the individuals had been rehabilitated without question by prosecutors, including four who are listed as heroes on the Russian Defense Ministry's website.

It said doubt could only be attributed to three, due to the lack of documentation about their rehabilitation.

Furthermore, it said collaboration did not exclude the fact that an individual was also political repressed, pointing out that some of the people on the list were jailed on trumped-up charges by the Soviet government in the 1930s before later helping the Nazis.

"Illegal repressions, crimes, and exploits are different facts that are not mutually exclusive," it said in a statement at the time.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to sweep under the rug the Soviet Union's abysmal human rights record while trying to unite the country around its victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

His government has harassed Memorial, other organizations, and academics researching the Soviet Union's criminal past.

Russia's Supreme Court in December ruled to close Memorial, claiming it violated the onerous "foreign agent" law, which is increasingly being used by officials to shutter civil society and media groups.

Memorial has appealed the ruling. Rachinsky said at the time the organization's work would not stop, since parts of it are not legal entities.

With reporting by Interfax
A woman watches an investigation by Aleksei Navalny into President Vladimir Putin's alleged "palace."

In a flurry of overnight notifications, Russian state media-monitoring agency Roskomnadzor threatened to block eight RFE/RL websites serving audiences in Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia unless they immediately pulled down articles tied to corruption investigations by jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

Roskomnadzor sent more than 60 e-mail notifications demanding that content related to Navalny investigations be removed from RFE/RL's two largest websites for Russian audiences -- Radio Liberty and Current Time -- as well as RFE/RL's Russian-language sites for Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan, as well as local sites for Russia's Siberian, Volga-Ural, and Northwestern regions.

Among the content were corruption investigations related to the Black Sea "palace" of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin-linked businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, and other high-ranking figures in Russia's power structures.

RFE/RL was given 24 hours to remove dozens of articles, which Roskomnadzor says represent a violation of Russia's antiextremism and antiterrorism legislation.

RFE/RL will not comply with the demand, which RFE/RL President Jamie Fly condemned as an act of "political censorship."

"RFE/RL will not allow the Kremlin to dictate our editorial decisions. This is a blatant act of political censorship by a government apparently threatened by journalists who are merely reporting the truth," Fly said in a statement.

Roskomnadzor has made similar demands recently to more than a dozen Russian publications, including the newspaper Novaya gazeta.

Novaya gazeta said on February 3 that it had acted on the request and removed materials related to Navalny's "Putin's Palace" investigation as well as a report on the business activities of Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin's former son-in-law.

In their place, the newspaper posted a statement noting that the reports had been deleted at Roskomnadzor's request. It made no further comment.

The move comes just four months after Novaya gazeta Editor in Chief Dmitry Muratov was a co-recipient of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for his "efforts to safeguard freedom of expression."

The Dozhd television channel said on February 1 that it too was ordered to remove six reports, while the Ekho Moskvy radio station said 34 articles were targeted. Several other media outlets said they received the notices as well.

Roskomnadzor explained the move by saying it was following last year's court decision labeling all of Navalny's groups and organizations as "extremist."

Navalny, an outspoken Kremlin critic, was arrested in January 2021 upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin -- accusations that Russian officials reject.

He is currently serving a 2 1/2-year prison sentence after violating parole during his recovery on embezzlement charges that he says were trumped up because of his political activities.

In June 2021, the Moscow City Court declared all organizations linked to Navalny "extremist," preventing people associated with Navalny and his network of regional offices across Russia from seeking public office.

The ruling against his organizations also carries possible lengthy prison terms for activists who have worked with them.

Human Rights Watch said in December that Russian authorities had "redoubled their efforts" over the past year to repress online freedoms, citing the blocking of tools used to circumvent censorship, expanding "oppressive" Internet laws, and pressure on tech companies to comply with "increasingly stifling regulations."

The latest move comes amid increasing pressure against RFE/RL and other independent media organizations and journalists who have been designated "foreign agents" by the Russian Justice Ministry. Nine of RFE/RL's Russian-language websites and 18 of its Russian-national journalists have been branded "foreign agents."

The company is currently facing over $13 million in assessed fines for declining to add a "foreign agent" label to most content for Russian audiences.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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