Memorial Society and its Members Persecuted

By | December 29, 2016

Russian authorities have recently intensified attacks on Memorial, the Russian human rights organization whose main objective is to preserve the original memory of political repression in the recent past of our country. On December 7, 2016, the Tverskoi Regional Court in Moscow ruled that the International Society Memorial (the historical and educational branch of the Society) should pay a fine of 300,000 rubles ($5,000) for “violation of the rules for a non-profit organization that performs the functions of a foreign agent.”

This is a consequence of the Russian Justice Ministry decision made on October 4, 2016, to include the International Memorial in the register of “foreign agents.” International Society Memorial decided to challenge this decision and on November 22, 2016, submitted an appeal to the Zamoskvoretsky Regional Court in Moscow.

In the session on December 16, 2016, this court declined the claim of the International Memorial to the Ministry of Justice, recognizing the legitimate inclusion of the organization in the register of “foreign agents.” There were representatives of the embassies of France, the Netherlands, Norway, and Lithuania in the court room, among others.

Currently, there are following Memorial branches in the register of “foreign agents”: International Society Memorial and Human Rights Center “Memorial” in Moscow, as well as regional branches in the Komi Republic and Ryazan Region, and the cities on St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.

On December 22, 2016, Moscow Tverskoi Regional Court ruled another branch of the Society, the Human Rights Center “Memorial” (it is a separate legal entity) for a fine of 300,000 for the same “crime”, that this center did not put a label of “foreign agent” on five posted on its website materials about the situation with political prisoners in current Russia. This Center was pronounced a “foreign agent” in July 2014.

The lawyer Marina Agaltsova, who represented the “Memorial” Center in the court, stated the organization does not recognize its guilt, pointed to the absurdity of the very concept of the “law on foreign agents”, and declared that the “Memorial” Center will appeal against the “law” and its application in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

On December 26, 2016, the International Society Memorial submitted to Moscow City Court an appeal against a fine for rejecting being listed in the register of “foreign agents.”

In the meantime, on December 13, 2016, Yuri Dmitriev, 60-year-old chairman of the “Memorial” Karelian Regional Branch was arrested in the city of Petrozavodsk, the capital of the Karelian Republic. Dmitriev is a compiler and publisher of the memories of victims of political repression 1930s-1940s in Karelia.  In the late 1990s, expeditions under his leadership discovered mass graves of executed victims of political repression in the place of Sandarmokh and the Red Forest. In the Red Forest alone, Dmitriev found the names of 3,776 victims executed in 1937-38. He is also Secretary of the Petrozavodsk and a member of the Karelian Commission on Restoration of the Rights of Rehabilitated Victims of Political Repressions. Since 1997, he heads the Karelian regional public Organization “Academy of Social and Legal Protection.”

Before his arrest, Dmitriev lived with his wife and 11-year-old foster daughter Natasha. Since Dmitriev’s wife was in a hospital on the day of the arrest, the officials took his daughter from school.

Dmitriev was detained for two months on a charge of the “use of a person under 14 years of age, with intent to produce pornographic materials or objects” (Article 242.2 of the Russian Criminal Code). In general, he faces up to 15 years in prison. The accusation is based on a family photo made by Dmitriev, which shows his adopted daughter and granddaughter (they are about the same age) running to bathe in the bathroom. This photo was found in his home computer and was not posted on the Internet, as was claimed by authorities.

Dmitriev’s wife told reporters that before the arrest she and her husband discovered that the apartment was secretly visited by an unknown person. Someone rummaged through things and turned on the computer. In addition, the wife said that a few days before the arrest, Dmitriev received a phone call and the caller asked questions about the “executioners lists” he had compiled. This is yet another disturbing example of a new devastating form of kompromat that has recently been used by Russian officials to harass opponents. See the recent New York Times article, “Foes of Russia Say Child Pornography is Planted to Ruin Them” for an excellent article about its use against the famous dissident Vladimir Bukovsky.

The Russian officials are undoubtedly annoyed with the “executioners lists.” Descendants of the chekists (NKVD officers) in an open letter appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin demanding he close access to the database “USSR State Security Personnel of the USSR. 1935-1939″ on the Memorial website. However, the leadership of the society has refused to do so.

On December 2, 2016, first deputy chairman of the Russian Duma (Parliament) Committee for Public Associations and Religious Organizations Ivan Sukharev asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to check the activities of the International Society Memorial because of the publication of the database “USSR State Security Personnel of the USSR.” Sukharev called this publication a “dangerous provocation.” According to Sukharev, it may violate several articles of the Criminal Code, including Article 282 (incitement to hatred on social grounds).

Meanwhile the promotion of Stalin’s past continues in Russia. On December 1, unknown persons vandalized the monument in the memory of Gulag victims near the city of Magadan in the Russian Far East, where the most horrific labor camps were located. The monument, created by the famous sculptor Ernst Neizvestny and the Magadan architect Kamil Kazaev, was unveiled on June 12, 1996. The central sculpture of the monument represents a stylized human face, of which the left eye tears flow as small masks. The right eye is depicted in the form of a window with bars. On the back, there is a bronze sculpture of a weeping woman beneath a non-canonical crucifix. A copy of a typical prison cell is placed inside the monument. Vandals wrote the words “Stalin is alive” with red paint on the perimeter of the statue and drew a five-pointed Soviet star.

On December 24, a new three-meters high statue of Stalin was unveiled on a private property in the city of Arkhangelsk in North Russia. Alexander Afanasyev, a deputy of the Arkhangelsk City Duma from the Communist Party, initiated the installation. He called Stalin’s statue “a symbol designed to unite the Russian people.” Several dozen people attended the opening ceremony They brought Soviet flags and portraits of Stalin.

Author: Vadim Birstein

Dr. Vadim J. Birstein is a historian and geneticist. He is the author of over 300 scientific papers and books and has written two scholarly historical works, "The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science" and "SMERSH, Stalin's Secret Weapon: Soviet Military Counterintelligence in WWII". He received the inaugural "St. Ermin's Intelligence Book Award" in 2012 for SMERSH.

2 thoughts on “Memorial Society and its Members Persecuted

  1. Pingback: Attacks on the Memorial Society Continue | Dr. Vadim Birstein

  2. Pingback: Erasing Memory: the Sandarmokh Execution Site | Dr. Vadim Birstein

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