Moscow tries to close one of Russia’s oldest human rights groups

Moscow tries to close one of Russias oldest human rights groups

Stock image

(Reuters) -Russia’s government is trying to shut the Moscow Helsinki Group, one of the country’s oldest human rights organisations, according to a notice on a Moscow court website seen on Tuesday.

The group, which traces its roots to the Soviet era, produces an annual report on Russia’s human rights situation.

Valery Borshov, co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said authorities had put forward a «nonsense» allegation that the group’s own charters barred it from defending human rights outside the capital – something it has always openly done.

Since invading Ukraine in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin has accelerated a drive to suppress dissenting views, whether from independent media, non-governmental rights groups or political opponents.

This month, opposition politician Ilya Yashin was handed eight-and-a-half years in prison for spreading «false information» about the army by highlighting reports of atrocities by Russian soldiers in Bucha near Kyiv – which Russia says are fabricated by the West.

And a year ago, courts closed Russia’s Memorial Human Rights Centre and its sister organisation Memorial International, known for chronicling and keeping alive the memory of Stalin-era crimes.

The Moscow Helsinki Group was founded in 1976 by Soviet dissident scientists and human rights activists to monitor the Soviet Union’s compliance with the Helsinki Accords, an East-West pact meant to promote detente at the height of the Cold war.

In 2012, it renounced foreign funding in order to avoid being labelled a «foreign agent» under a law designed to make life hard for organisations that receive money from abroad.

Borshov said Russian authorities were deliberately destroying the most respected human rights organisations:

«The Moscow Helsinki Group is the oldest human rights organisation in the country, so the fact that the authorities want to liquidate us does not surprise me at all.»

Putin has his own Human Rights Council, a body that critics say has enabled him to pay lip service to civic freedoms while increasing repression.

Last month, shortly before his annual meeting with the Council, he removed 10 of its members and brought in four new ones including a pro-war blogger-correspondent.

(Reporting by Filipp Lebedev; Writing by Kevin Liffey; Editing by Jon Boyle)