Russia's Justice Ministry has accused the prominent nongovernmental organization Memorial of "undermining the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation" and of calling for "a change of political regime" in the country.
The ministry sent the Memorial Human Rights Center notification of the accusations on November 9 in a report of its annual examination of the group's work triggered by its official status as a "foreign agent."
The Memorial Human Rights Center was officially placed on the government's register of "foreign agents" on November 6
The Justice Ministry report does not amount to legal charges against the NGO and it is not immediately clear what, if any, legal ramifications it may entail. Memorial Legal Director Kirill Koroteyev told Kommersant the NGO believes the ministry might use the report as the basis of a legal request to shut down Memorial or even to open criminal cases against Memorial officials.
The report cites an August 2014 statement by the organization that concluded that Russia's actions in Ukraine "fall under the definition of aggression" and asserted that active-duty Russian troops were participating in the conflict there.
The report also cited a February 2014 statement that alleged that prosecutors and judges had "fabricated" the cases against Russians who were charged with fomenting public disorder at an antigovernment rally on Bolotnaya Square in May 2012.
Memorial on November 10 posted a defiant statement on Facebook saying that "the Justice Ministry is equating criticism of the government with attempts to overthrow it."
"We are exercising our freedom of thought and speech and freedom of association, which are guaranteed by articles 28 and 30 of the Russian Constitution," the statement says. "We do not consider it appropriate to remain silent if we see that officials, including the highest officials, are violating human rights and the norms of international law."
The NGO charges that the ministry is "returning us to the days of the Soviet government's fight against dissent."
Memorial says it will appeal the Justice Ministry's report as itself unconstitutional.
The law requiring nongovernmental organizations that accept foreign funding to register as "foreign agents" was adopted in 2012, and the list now includes 10 NGOs.
Memorial was founded informally in 1987, and the Memorial Human Rights Center was created in 1991. It is devoted to researching the political repressions of the Soviet Union and commemorating their victims. It also investigates and reports on human rights violations in conflict zones and maintains a list of political prisoners in Russia.