Date: December 22, 2021
Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed its grave concern today over the Russian government’s ongoing efforts to close the International Memorial Society (Memorial), which is an irreplaceable resource for monitoring severe persecution, including religious freedom conditions in Eurasia.
“The persecution of the International Memorial Society is a perfect example of the war against religious freedom and other human rights in Russia,” said USCIRF Commissioner Khizr Khan. “Closing Memorial would not only impact advocacy on behalf of free speech, journalists, women’s rights, LGBT, and ethnic minorities in Russia, but it would also severely curtail efforts to monitor religious freedom in other nations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.”
Memorial is the umbrella organization for the oldest and most prestigious human rights network in Russia. It documents and keeps records of Soviet-era repressions and maintains extensive lists of current political prisoners in the region. In Russia, the vast majority of those listed are imprisoned for their peaceful religious belief or practice. In 2014, the Russian government designated Memorial and the Memorial Human Rights Center, which is an organization within Memorial that monitors ongoing human rights violations, as “foreign agents” and forced the organizations to place warnings on all of their published materials. In November 2021, a Russian prosecutor requested that the Supreme Court abolish Memorial for allegedly failing to do so, despite its well-documented efforts to comply.
On December 15, 2021, the court ordered Memorial to pay a fine, which observers fear to be a prelude to the imminent liquidation of the organization. Hearings on its closure began in November, and similar hearings for the Memorial Human Rights Center are scheduled for December 23, 2021.
“This campaign against Memorial is part of the Russian government’s broader crackdown on civil society and human rights, especially religious freedom. Russia also labels the Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘extremists’ while other religious minority groups are designated as ‘undesirable organizations,’ which are tactics to give the government broad powers to target religious groups and religious freedom advocates for arbitrary reasons” said USCIRF Commissioner James W. Carr. “While we agree with the State Department’s decision to designate Russia as a country of particular concern, USCIRF also encourages the U.S. government to work with European allies to use advocacy, diplomacy, and targeted sanctions to encourage Russia to end religious freedom abuses.”
Since 2017, USCIRF has recommended that the U.S. State Department designate Russia a country of particular concern, or CPC, for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations. In November 2021, the State Department designated Russia a CPC for the first time.