Police raid Memorial in St Petersburg

Masked police raided the offices of the Russian human rights organisation, Memorial, in St Petersburg on 4 December 2008. The police confiscated all hard drives from the organisation’s computers and disconnected all telephones in the office.

The Prosecutor’s Office said Memorial was suspected of financing the local opposition newspaper, Novy Peterburg, which was closed in 2007 for publishing an allegedly “extremist” article.

The prosecutors allege that the article, “Here Comes the Real Candidate,” written by Konstantin Chernyayev in Novy Peterburg in June 2007, incited social and ethnic hatred. Tatyana Kosinova, one of the leaders of Memorial in St Petersburg, insisted, however, that the organisation has never had any connection with Novy Peterburg.

Mr Yuly Rybak, staff member of Memorial in St Petersburg, said the raid may be linked to the screening of Andrey Nekrasov’s documentary film, “Rebellion – The Litvinenko Case.” The film was first shown in Russia on 20 November 2008 in Moscow’s Sakharov Centre. The screening was organised by Memorial.

Mr Rybak said the police raid has effectively paralysed the organisation’s activities. He called the raid an act of repression against Memorial. Irina Flige, head of Memorial’s historical wing, said the raid was an attempt to intimidate the organisation, and may lead to its closure.

The police seized all the organisation’s research material from the past 20 years. Documents seized included historical material about political repression in the Soviet Union. Memorial has conducted extensive research into the Red Terror in 1918-1922 and the history of Russia’s labour camps. Mr Rybakov feared what might happen to the material.

“This outrageous police raid on Memorial shows the poisonous climate for NGOs in Russia,” said Allison Gill, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch (HRW). This is an overt attempt by the Russian government to suppress independent civic activity and silence critical voices,” she said.

HRW said the Russian government should immediately investigate a police raid on Memorial. HRW also called on the government to ensure the speedy and safe return of all seized equipment and documents. “Memorial’s archives are a national treasure,” said Gill.

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