Russia closes high rights group amid repression against critics

MOSCOW: The Supreme Court of Russia issued a ruling on Friday to close the operations of a respected rights group, which caused outrage amid growing repression against activists and the opposition.

The group, For Human Rights, promised to appeal the ruling, which is the last of a series of legal actions by authorities in recent years, seen as a constant increase in pressure on rights defenders.

It occurs after the government in February added For Human Rights to a registry of foreign agents, a label given to organizations considered political that implies that they receive funds from abroad.

The group, which investigates rights abuses, said it had one month to file an appeal against the Supreme Court ruling.

We will appeal the ruling and also go to the European Court of Human Rights, said the head of the group, Lev Ponomaryov, one of the most prominent activists in the country.

The movement itself will continue to live and work, he told AFP.

For Human Rights, founded in 1997, is one of the oldest human rights groups in Russia with the mission of promoting the rule of law and civil society. It is made up of several regional and local rights organizations.

Ponomaryov, 78, is a former physics professor who rose to fame as an activist in the late 1980s and served in Russia's first post-Soviet parliament.

In recent years, he has been a vocal opponent of the president Vladimir Putin The government of.

The Russian Ministry of Justice had accused his group of multiple violations, including not always using the foreign agent label in his publications.

The group argued in court that these were not sufficient grounds for liquidation.

This is a historical judgment. This is being done for the first time, Russia's largest rights organization is being liquidated. I am sure there is a great interest in the country and in the world in this trial, Ponomaryov told the court.

The legal decision to close the group provoked outraged responses from opponents to the Kremlin.

The authorities have lost it! Kremlin critic and former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky wrote in.

It is time for the elite to realize that there is only one person who still has rights, added opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov, referring to Putin.

For Human Rights, it has faced an avalanche of legal actions and the Ministry of Justice has tried to close it for months.

In December last year, Ponomaryov spent more than two weeks in jail for urging people to participate in an unauthorized demonstration in Moscow .

Earlier this month, Russia declared opposition leader Alexei Navalny (FBK) a foreign agent, tightening the screws to the group.

The label, which recalls the Soviet era offensive against dissidents, forces them to submit documents every three months describing their finances.

The measure comes when Russian officials accuse the West of trying to undermine the country, characterizing internal criticism as the work of spies and traitors.

Last month, Putin eliminated several opposition figures from his human rights council, an advisory body that has ruled against the abuses but has lost influence in recent years.

In March, a Chechnya court sentenced Oyub Titiyev, who led the Chechen office of the commemorative rights group, one of the oldest in Russia, to four years in prison for drug offenses in a trial that condemned international groups. Titiyev, 62, was released on probation in June.