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Russian Nobel Laureates Warn Against Closure Of Memorial Rights Group

Mikhail Gorbachev (right) won the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize and Dmitry Muratov (left) shared the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize with Filipino journalist Maria Ressa. (file photo)

Two Russian Nobel Peace Prize winners have issued a joint appeal for authorities to drop a bid to close one of Russia's most venerated human rights groups -- Memorial.

In a joint statement on November 18, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, and the editor in chief of the Novaya gazeta newspaper, Dmitry Muratov, said attempts to close Memorial have “caused anxiety and concern in the country, which we share.”

Moscow prosecutors this month asked a city court to order the Memorial human rights center's closure, while Russian federal prosecutors want the Supreme Court to order a shutdown of International Memorial.

Memorial was launched shortly before the Soviet collapse in part to document Soviet repression. In the decades since, it has produced hallmark indicators of the rights situation and documented historical and ongoing injustices.

“The long-term activities of Memorial have always been aimed at restoring historical justice, preserving the memory of hundreds of thousands of those killed and injured during the years of repression, and preventing this from happening now and in the future. The continuation of this work meets the interests of society and the Russian state,” Gorbachev and Muratov said.

“We urge the Attorney General's Office to withdraw the claim from court and settle the claims out of court,” they added.

The attempt to close the organizations relates to alleged violations of the country’s "foreign agent" legislation.

Memorial is among several news outlets and rights organizations to have been labeled "foreign agents" in what is seen as a historic crackdown on civil society and critics of the government.

Russia’s so-called "foreign agent" legislation was adopted in 2012 and has been modified repeatedly.

It requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance, and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity, to be registered, to identify themselves as “foreign agents,” and to submit to audits.

The move to close down Memorial has sparked widespread condemnation at home and abroad.